Monday, February 22, 2010

Movie Mondays: A Single Man (2009)

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by: Tom Ford

A Single Man, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, tells the story of George Falconer (Firth), a gay English professor who is struggling to move on after the unexpected death of Jim (Goode), his partner and love of sixteen years.  The film shows a single day in George's life in which he prepares to kill himself.  He goes to teach his last class, he empties his safety deposit box at the bank, buys bullets for his gun, writes letters to his friends, and picks out which suit he's going to wear at his funeral.  Along the way, things get in the way of George's impending suicide, some of them even comical.  Among these are a student (Hoult) who becomes fixated with him, a meeting with a Spanish hustler, a drunken visit with his friend Charley (Moore), and recurring memories of his time with Jim.

This film is a very strong debut by fashion designer Tom Ford.  Considering Ford's background, it's no surprise that the overall design and visuals of the film are fantastic.  The story takes place in 1962, right after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the set and the costumes really evoke that era.  If you like the look of Mad Men (which I do), then you'll probably love this movie.  It's easy to get hung up on the lush and meticulous visual aesthetic of this film.  As Firth's character goes through what he assumes will be his last day on Earth, everyday occurrences become more meaningful and poignant to him.  Colors turn from dull to blooming and saturated as George experiences things that touch him.  A memory of George and Jim on the beach is shown in gorgeous black and white.  Everyone frame is filled with a kind of heartbreaking poignancy.  However despite the emphasis on the visual aspect and design of this film, A Single Man is not an exercise in style over substance.  The movie is an exquisitely told story of a man dealing with grief, trying to live in a world which he no longer feels worth living in. The fact that he's a gay man in 1962 doesn't help matters much.  With the cultural atmosphere at the time, he is never really allowed to show his grief and what he's feeling.  Everything about him feels buttoned-down, contained, and his whole existence feels like nothing but a mask.  Colin Firth gives a revelatory performance.  I had written him off as a serious actor (particularly after the Bridget Jones sequel...yikes), but he's really amazing in this movie.  Julianne Moore is also great as his lush of a best friend who has been in love with him for years. 

Overall, I highly recommend this movie.  It has an intriguing story, lush visuals, a beautiful score by Abel Korzeniowski and Shigeru Umebayashi, and great performances all around.

Grade: A-

Monday, February 15, 2010


I didn't mean to make another post, but I just feel compelled to share something.

I think I'm in love.

With this cat. 


Isn't that seriously the most darling face you've ever seen?

I went over to bake cookies today with my friend Linnea's mom.  They got a kitten last summer, named Rascal, that I had yet to meet.  Until today.


I bent down to say hi and pet him after going through the door.  He immediately responded by sitting on his haunches and getting right up in my face for a very intense sniffing session.  He then spent the rest of the afternoon jumping on counters, licking me, trying to get into the dog's food, trying to get into the sink, stealing yogurt, rolling around on the floor, teasing the dog, eating paper, and batting at everything in sight.  He's more trouble than a two-year old.  And yet incredible people-friendly and sweet as can be.


He's so cute that I'll forgive him for getting into my camera bag.

Extreme cuteness can get you out of a lot of trouble.


Movie Mondays: The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Starring: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, Timothy Davis, Mark Jacobson
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience tells the story of Chelsea (played by porn star Sasha Grey), a high-class New York City escort who gives her clients "the girlfriend experience".  Essentially this means that her clients are paying for her companionship more than anything else, for her to act like a date or girlfriend, and sex may or may not be involved at all.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion and jumps from event to event, leaving the viewer to piece together what's happening.  It takes place close to the time of the presidential elections of 2008 and approaching the impending financial crisis.  There are many scenes of Chelsea's clients griping to her about the worsening economy and financial woes.  This comes up in other areas of the story as well - Chelsea's trying to find ways to expand her business while her boyfriend, Chris (Santos) is a personal trainer who is struggling with money and his career.  Things start to get a little interesting after Chelsea clicks with a client (Davis) and decides to go away with him for a weekend.

I found The Girlfriend Experience to be an intriguing film, but I'm undecided as to whether or not it was a successful one.  The aesthetics of the film are great (and impressive considering it was shot on a low budget with an inexpensive Red One camera) and I liked its sleek, yet naturalistic visual style.  And while there have been mixed reviews on Sasha Grey's performance, I thought she did a good job with presenting Chelsea as someone who is somewhat shallow, yet very guarded and detached.  Most of her scenes are with her clients and she projects a perfect, idealized image of herself for them.  As she tells an interviewer (Jacobson), the clients are not paying for the real her.  They're paying for her to listen, to talk with them, to be sympathetic with them, but not more invovled than she has to be.   

My main issue with the film is that it doesn't really try to connect with the viewer beyond a surface level.  It gives us a window into its characters' worlds, but doesn't take the time to explore their deeper desires and motivations.  Perhaps this is Soderbergh's intent, to remain detached, but seeing as how I took this movie as a sort of character study, I'm surprised he didn't go more in depth with some of the questions that he raised.  I also found Chelsea's relationship with her boyfriend problematic.  Chelsea treats him with the same sort of detachment that she does with her clients and I really wanted to know how exactly he felt about what she does for a living. 
Also, considering how much of the time the characters spent talking about money, not having enough of it, trying to find ways to earn more, this doesn't disguise the fact that Chelsea is a high-class escort and charges likely thousands upon thousands of dollars for her services.  She also has an insanely nice, spacious Manhattan apartment with what looks to be original art on the walls.  On top of that, to keep up with her high-class image and high-class clientele, Chelsea has an expensive, designer wardrobe (she chronicles what she wears to meet every client, piece by piece).  Just a small gripe, but I found the disconnect between all the talk of the failing economy with Chelsea's expensive lifestyle problematic. 

At any rate, it was a very interesting movie and I would recommend The Girlfriend Experience.  At least if you're looking for something more serious and a bit more introspective than an episode of Secret Diary of a Call GirlHowever, considering that Soderbergh is a more-than-capable director, I wish it had taken more time to flesh out its story and characters.

Rating: B-

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Visit to the Seattle Central Library

Last night, while walking through downtown DC, I passed by the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library, which is the main building in the DC Public Library system.  I've walked by it plenty of times, never really thinking twice about it.  I'm sure it's a fine library on the inside but, as you can see from the picture below, it's not really remarkable or anything especially nice to look at.  Just another large building downtown.

I'd heard a lot of praise regarding the Seattle Central Library in downtown Seattle and how neat it was.  I never made it around to visiting the Seattle Central Library during my trip last year, so this time around, I made sure not to miss it.

We were somewhat rushed, having scheduled a tour of a local chocolate factory for later that afternoon.  We only got to spend about 20 minutes in this amazing library, but we made it count.  And even in that short time, I fell in love.

Let's first meander through the children's section.


I'm so intrigued by this book, despite its horrifying title.







Colorful, whimsical, and full of every delightful book imaginable, this was the children's section of my dreams.  My 8-year old self could've lived her forever.  Then again, my 24-year old self is still pretty tempted.

However, since our time was running short, we had to rush to see what else this building had in store.

Up by the top there was a great view with these amazing slanted glass panes.





And of course, let us not forget the neon yellow escalator.


I spent a lot of time in libraries growing up.  In middle school and high school, whenever I had a chunk of spare time, I would take the bus down to the library and spend hours there, pouring over books.  I wish I had had such a cool space as this.  I sadly don't think enough about architecture and it's ability to transform locations and create incredible, memorable, unique spaces.  Maybe one day I'll create my own fantastical, magical, surreal, cool-ass library that'll rival even this one.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Art Isn't Easy


On Day 3 of our Seattle vacation, Anna, Joh, and I visited the Henry Art Gallery.  It's located right on the University of Washington campus and despite its small size, it is a really cool gallery and has many, many things to look at, such as a collection of polaroids by Robert Mapplethorpe and a skyspace by James Turrell (pictured above).

Also, this weird couch thing (by Roy McMakin, in case you're curious).


Despite the fact that it was still relatively early in the afternoon, we were already exhausted.




Anna took the opportunity to rest upon the art, while Joh and I were content to photograph her.  I'd like to think she became part of the piece.  Which maybe was the artist's intention.  At any rate, I would love to have a weird staircase-chair piece in my apartment.

Lastly, I'll show you the Turrell skyspace from outside the gallery.  I think the exterior is supposed to change colors, depending on the light outside.  Pretty nifty.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Poles on Puget Sound


I recently purchased a Groupon to take a handful of pole dancing classes at a gym in DC.  Pole dancing is a lot harder than it looks and requires a considerable amount of balance, upper-body strength, and coordination.  And, like any other form of exercise, it requires practice in order to improve one's abilities.  What sucks about pole dancing is really need a pole to practice.  If you're stubborn like me and have to comply with certain agreements in your lease, then you're not going to set one up in your home.  Which means one must take to the streets in order to find adequate poles for practice.

This is also harder than you would think.  Good poles are apparently hard to come by.  They're always too wide, too narrow, or too unwieldy.

On our recent trip to Seattle, after wandering through Pike Place Market a bit, I took Anna and Joh down to the waterfront.  It was there were we discovered, near the weird statue of Christopher Columbus and by the Seattle Aquarium, was a raised stage... with some poles.


Now, as you can see...these are not quite ideal poles.  They were not nearly sturdy enough to do a catch-spin or to try and lift yourself off the ground.  Also, at least one side is situated on a step, so that makes things a bit awkward.  But I thought that they were decent enough to play around on and try a few tricks.  I tried to demonstrate some of these to Anna.
This mainly consisted of a lot of spinning around, since I had forgotten how to do most of the tricks I had learned in the one class I took a few weeks ago.




And trying not to fall off of the step to a concrete death.


Joh opted not to participate in the pole festivities, opting instead to play photographer.  Because she is not a shameless woman.

It just goes to show you that if you know where to look, opportunities are everywhere for random, shameless, fun antics with friends.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Rainy Afternoon in Ballard

Anna, Joh, and I recently returned from a trip to Seattle. 


One thing that people kept trying to tell us before we went was that Seattle, being in the Pacific Northwest and all, is quite damp.  Rains quite a bit of the time.  You think that this would've been quite obvious. 

This fact did not become apparent until we decided to trek all the way from our hostel in Belltown to Lunchbox Laboratory in Ballard, because we were craving burgers in a bad way.


I'd read about Lunchbox Lab and its mythically large burgers, so it seemed like the good place to go to satisfy our insane hunger.  Two things you should know about Lunchbox Lab, if you ever have a chance to visit - 1) It is quite popular, probably due to word-of-mouth about its mythically large burgers and 2) It is ridiculouslously small inside.  It can comfortably seat... maybe 10 people inside, rather than the 30+ who had showed up, looking for food. 

Since we had come a long way and had no other options, we decided to park ourselves in one of the two very damp tables outside to sit and eat.  So, after having dried off our seats and table as much as possible, we sat outside in the cold, drizzly air, and ate our burgers.


They were even bigger than expected.  Regretably, I only managed to down about 1/4th of mine.

After that, we trekked down to my friend's apartment, where we took in some of the neighborhood sights.


My favorite were these concrete couches.  Which I would've sat in if they hadn't been so darned DAMP.

Only these tree-clocks rivaled the concrete couches for neighborhood quirky-cuteness.

Also, can someone explain this playground to me?  So confused here.  I would've climbed on it to test it out, but again, you was damp.  Soon after this point we found my friend's apartment and spent many hours there trying to get warm and dry again.  Overall though, it was a very good afternoon.

Stay tuned for further accounts of our Seattle adventurings!