Monday, February 28, 2011

An Open Letter to the Academy

You may be familiar with the humor website McSweeney's, which has a feature called Open Letters to People or Entities who are Unlikely to Respond. I'm going to shamelessly rip off their idea and post just such an open letter of my own right here:


Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

I would like to have a word with you about the two Oscar co-hosts from last night. While he was hosting, James Franco looked quite remarkably like the guys I try to chat up: bored. As for Anne Hathaway, I'll admit I had it out for her from the beginning because I feel threatened by very attractive and successful twentysomething women, so I was actually quite gratified to see that, on the basis of her public speaking skills, one could have been forgiven for confusing her with the Bar Mitzvah boy's girlfriend.

I know that you said you wanted this year's Oscars to be young and hip, but please recall that Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jon Stewart have something else in common besides being old and unhip: they're funny.

Yours sincerely,
JM

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Even More on The King's Speech

Not to beat a dead horse (or king), but I've just read Roger Ebert's review of The King's Speech, and, as I must say I expected, it was so irritatingly positive that it made me dislike the movie (which I've already discussed here and here) even more than I did before. So while in my other posts I talked about what was wrong with the movie, in today's post I'm going to talk about what's wrong with Mr. Ebert's review.

But first: I received a comment on my last post on this movie saying that I may be underestimating the importance of the abdication crisis. That may well be correct; I admit to knowing little about the abdication besides that it happened. I did look it up on Wikipedia just now and the article suggested that King George VI's brother, which was the one who abdicated, was a fairly open supporter of Hitler, so it seems to me that his abdication was likely for the best. But none of this rather more important history even makes an appearance in the movie, so don't think you'll figure it all out by watching it.

Anyway, here are some choice quotations from Roger Ebert's review, followed by my thoughts in bold, you know, so you notice them.

"Albert (i.e. the king) has been raised within the bell jar of the monarchy and objects to [being on a first-name basis with his speech therapist] not because he has an elevated opinion of himself but because, well, it just isn't done." Really? I'd have an elevated opinion of myself if I were him.


"If the British monarchy is good for nothing else, it's superb at producing the subjects of films." Come now, let's give credit where credit is due. It's quite good at producing tourism for London, isn't it?


"Americans, who aren't always expert on British royalty, may not necessarily realize that Albert and wife Elizabeth were the parents of Queen Elizabeth II." Are you kidding me? Americans know everything about British royalty. They want to know who's designing Kate's wedding dress even more than the Brits do! In fact, the only thing they know more about than British royalty is American royalty (a.k.a. the Kennedy family).


"The unsavory thing is that Wallis Simpson considered herself worthy of such a sacrifice from the man she allegedly loved." He's not saying what I think he's saying, which is something like, "How dare that dumb bitch think she deserved marriage from the man who supposedly loved her?" is he? Is he?


"The Duke and Duchess of Windsor... would occupy an inexplicable volume of attention for years, considering they had no significance after the Duke's abdication." It's not that inexplicable, actually. It's called being a celebrity. Kim Kardashian has no significance either, but I bet you pay a bit of attention to her at least sometimes.


"The movie is largely shot in interiors, and most of those spaces are long and narrow... I suspect [the director] may be evoking the narrow, constricting walls of Albert's throat as he struggles to get the words out." I disagree. I think he's evoking the narrow, constricting walls of my throat as my lunch struggles to get out after reading this review.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More on The King's Speech

I already reviewed The King's Speech here, but I don't think hardly anyone read that because it was like day three of this blog and that post was also obnoxiously long. So now that it looks like this movie might actually win a thousand Oscars, I'm just going to summarize the plot for you very quickly, a.k.a tell you what's wrong with it:

There's this posh snob who has a stutter. His wife gets him a speech therapist. Despite his superficial veneer of overconfidence, the speech therapist is super-impressed with his new patient because patient is actually the grand mother of all posh snobs, i.e. the friggin king. Speech therapist keeps telling posh snob that he's the "bravest man I've ever met," and posh snob's wife echoes these sentiments. Reasons for assumed bravery are presumably one of the following: a) guy's the king; b) guy has a stutter; c) guy's nice enough to tolerate talking to a common speech therapist; d) guy became the king a bit unexpectedly because his bro was first in line; e) some combination of the above.

I don't mean to be an asshole, but here's the thing: kings were born to be kings. Therefore, being the king doesn't make them brave, even if they are a little uncomfortable being the king. Like, "king" is the default position for a king, know what I mean? A king could abdicate, but let's face it, he's not going to because of a stutter since it's pretty awesome to be king. So this particular king makes some strides toward overcoming his stutter, but lots of stutterers who have far fewer resources than a king do that.

So why this guy is so brave, I am really just not sure. And why everyone and his mother (especially his mother) so loves this movie, I am also just not sure. Although I suppose I could speculate that people may just be fascinated with the British monarchy to the point that they think even uninteresting things about it are interesting. Did you hear that Kate has chosen her wedding dress designer, but she won't tell us who it is???? I can't wait to see the movie about that. And if you think I'm joking think again, because you are going to see that shit on Lifetime.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Drawing the Remarkable out of the Unremarkable

I mentioned here that the movie Another Year does a fantastic job of drawing the remarkable out of the unremarkable, and since then, I've been looking around for other things that do that. Fortunately, I spend pretty much all day every day staring at my Facebook news feed, and noticed that my friend Chelsy Stevens has been taking photographs lately that totally draw the remarkable out of the unremarkable. She has been participating in Project 365, where you take a picture every day based on fairly open-ended instructions, and was kind enough to allow me to post some of her photos for you to see. Here they are, along with the instructions for that day:



January 18, 2011: Make a photograph with a triangular composition.



January 3, 2011: Make a photograph with a symbol or icon in it today.



January 14, 2011: Get a shot of something in motion today. Freeze or blur it.



January 11, 2011: Make a photograph today that features or uses liquid as a subject.



January 15, 2011: Make a photograph of two complimentary objects arranged to show their relationship to each other.


See what I mean? You would never have thought that any of the items in those pictures was remarkable, but the picture helps you see their beauty. 

While I'm on the subject of posting other people's stuff, I'm also going to reproduce the words of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, whom I think could possibly be called the patron saint of drawing the remarkable out of the unremarkable. This is from his 2000 book Open Closed Open, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld:

The precision of pain and the blurriness of joy. I'm thinking
how precise people are when they describe their pain in a doctor's office.
Even those who haven't learned to read and write are precise:
'This one's a throbbing pain, that one's a wrenching pain,
this one gnaws, that one burns, this is a sharp pain
and that - a dull one. Right here. Precisely here,
yes, yes.' Joy blurs everything. I've heard people say
after nights of love and feasting, 'It was great,
I was in seventh heaven.' Even the spaceman who floated
in outer space, tethered to a spaceship, could say only, 'Great,
wonderful, I have no words.'
The blurriness of joy and the precision of pain -
I want to describe, with a sharp pain's precision, happiness
and blurry joy. I want to speak among the pains.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Trailer Trash Casserole

Yes, this is as good as it sounds. I got the idea for the name from this diner called Shanghai Cowgirl where they have Trailer Trash Sushi, which is actually just a chicken burger with wasabi mayo.

Anyways, for Trailer Trash Casserole you will need the following:

3-4 cups dry egg noodles (eyeball it; depends on the size of your baking dish)
1 can tuna
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup (Campbell's makes it, but you knew that)
1/3 cup milk
2 handfuls crushed potato chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 176 degrees Celsius.

Boil a pot of water, then cook the noodles according to package directions, drain them, and put them in a baking dish. The size of the baking dish doesn't really matter. You can just add more noodles if it seems too big.

Open the can of tuna and drain off the water, then add that to the baking dish, along with the soup, milk, and one handful of potato chips. Mix up, then sprinkle the rest of the potato chips on top.

Pop in the oven and bake until hot, about 30 minutes. This will keep in the fridge, so feel free to plan on having the whole thing yourself over the course of a week or something.

To those of you who think cooking is annoying or hard: pardon my French, but if you can't make this you're retarded.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Incendies and the Ring of Perfection

I talked about the ring of perfection here and here, so to quickly recap, it's the feeling you get when you watch a movie that profoundly moves you or gives you a crushing insight. I am extremely pleased to report that I've discovered another movie that falls into this category. The movie is Incendies ("Scorched"), the Canadian submission in the "Best Foreign Language" film category for the upcoming Oscars. I'm surprised by how good this movie is for two reasons: 1) Oscar movies lately seem to rather suck, and 2) Canadian movies tend to be too self-consciously Canadian to be really fantastic, and this one isn't self-conscious at all. I am proud that Canada made this movie.

The story takes the form of a Greek tragedy and begins with a riddle that a set of adult twins discover in their mother's will and have to solve after her death. The twins, who grew up in Quebec, don't speak Arabic, and have never previously spent time in the Middle East, have to retrace their mother's horrendously traumatizing past in an unnamed country that seems to be Lebanon. I was pleased to see that, although this movie is about a Middle East conflict, what is commonly referred to as the Middle East conflict (i.e. between Israel and the Arab world) does not so much as make an appearance.

To tell you more would be to ruin the movie, but the story is perfectly taut and the revelations are perfectly frightening. Admittedly, you will probably not exactly enjoy watching this movie because it is deeply horrifying, but it will surely haunt your dreams. It did mine, anyway.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Biutiful

Biutiful is about a modern-day Jesus Christ. I actually didn't realize this until the New York Times review of the thing tipped me off, so if you're planning on seeing it, please recall the following formula which I'm sure you know, and which is so clearly on display in this movie I really don't see how I could have failed to pick up on it:

Flawed guy who's nonetheless better than everyone else + dies even though everyone else deserves to die more + trusts the wrong people + helps the needy + has bizarre supernatural powers + nonsensically seems to love a crazy woman who has enough baggage to fill a luxury cruise ship + doesn't really have a father + scruffy facial hair = Jesus Christ


So what is so modern-day about this particular Jesus Christ? Well, he's a bit of a gangster for one (he's involved with an utterly douchy bunch of guys who smuggle illegal immigrants into Barcelona to use for cheap labour), and he apparently has at least a slight interest in earthly pleasures ("Remember that time we fucked in the closet?" his crazy baggage-laden ladyfriend asks him). He also doesn't know how to spell (see the title).

I'll admit I kind of liked this movie, but that's just because as a hipster-in-denial, I (along with the New York Times, I daresay) tend to like movies that seem really artsy-fartsy and are in Spanish. The only other thing I thought was a bit cool about it is how you could really feel how gross Christ's apartment was, and how wacked-out his lady's issues were, to the point that you could actually almost smell their nasty-ass body odor through the screen. That's pretty amazing if you think about it.

Apart from that, though, I really only have one thing to say about this movie. Remember how when you were like seven, all the cool kids always said "That's so funny I forgot to laugh?" Well, I'm going to proclaim myself cool and say that this shit was so depressing I forgot to cry. In fact, I sort of laughed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Header

A number of you have very kindly mentioned that you like my new header. I would like to give a shout-out to the creator of said header, Toronto-based graphic artist Sara Jennifer Hollander. If you too would like a graphic depiction of what you do on Saturday nights, or a graphic depiction of anything else, you should totally get her to do it for you as she is awesome. She can be reached at sarajenn@rogers.com.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Single and Bad Relationship Self-Awareness Day!

I was thinking just now about how amazing Tylenol is. That may sound kind of dumb but think about it: not only will Tylenol basically resolve any aches and pains you might have as long as you take it every four to six hours until the ache goes away naturally, but it knows where the ache or pain is and what's causing it. I mean we don't have separate painkillers like Tylenol Headache, Tylenol Backache, Tylenol Pulled Muscle, or Tylenol Fever. We just have one Tylenol, and whichever one of those you are suffering from, Tylenol will identify the problem and fix it. Tylenol knows everything!

Not only does Tylenol know everything, but it also shows how we know pretty much everything about physical pain too, at least compared to how little we know about emotional pain. I mean just think about how great it would be if we had even separate emotional painkillers. Or if we even had a painkiller for just one kind of emotional pain, and all you had to do was take it every four to six hours until the pain went away naturally!

But we don't. There's no Tylenol Disappointment, or Tylenol Grief-Stricken, or Tylenol Heartbreak. There's no Tylenol Life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Vagina Monologues

I have just seen a production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, which is peformed in cities across the globe around this time of year. The goal of these performances is to promote awareness of violence against women and to support an anti-violence initiative called V-Day, but I am not sure that should be the goal. I'll explain what I mean, but first some background.

The Vagina Monologues is, as the name suggests, a series of monologues performed by women about their characters' sexual experiences and vaginas. It was first performed as a solo show by its author Eve Ensler in 1996, and has been both lauded and criticized within various branches of the feminist movement. On one hand, the play has certainly been praised for presenting women's issues that are not otherwise discussed much in public, and for including the experiences of women of many different ages and backgrounds. On the other hand, critics of the play have noted that the vast majority of the monologues depict the female experience in a negative light, and that heterosexual experiences in particular seem to get a bad review compared with lesbian experiences. There is even one particularly startling monologue which depicts a lesbian statutory rape in a positive light. Whoa.

Despite that shock factor, my issue with the play is somewhat different from these critiques. Although I may be more awkward than the average woman, I am going to take a leap of faith and suppose that apart from that, I am fairly standard for someone who grew up in the West. This means that the vagina monologues which talk about how much Pap smears suck, how tampons should be lubricated, how gross run-of-the-mill bad sex is, and how hard it is to get off when you're old and arthritic are very relatable to me, even though being 25, I am not yet arthritic. I enjoyed watching these monologues because they made me think of what late-night comedy would be like, if only late-night comedy tried to entertain women. Unfortunately, late-night comedy is actually mostly a bunch of guys making dumb jokes about their balls.

Anyway, The Vagina Monologues. In the very next breath after the relatable stuff - or the very next monologue - I am being told about something that is really not relatable to Westerners at all, like female genital mutilation or tribal rape in the developing world. To me, these things are foreign causes rather than elements of my own female identity and have no business being in the same play as tampon humour, but The Vagina Monologues tries to insist that I identify with all of it equally. After all, the play seems to reason, we are all part of a global sisterhood, and the issue of "violence against women" can be equally well represented by the stories of all women.

I disagree with this way of thinking. Awkward masturbation and Pap smears are not violent just because they involve a vagina, and the presence of a vagina in all of these monologues is too tenuous a connection between them to justify their presence in the same play. Also, if I were going to watch a play about the plight of women who have been subjected to female genital mutilation, it would actually need to be more or less entirely about that subject to be effective, not just a brief little part of a larger thing.

Basically, what I am saying is that this play needs to decide what it is. If it is about violence against women, it should be about violence against women. If it is about the amusing travails of being a woman in the developed world, that's fine too, but then it should be about that. No one play can do everything.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Eggplant Salads

Two of them, which go well together and are easy to make at the same time, so I just threw the recipes together here. They're based on ones from Joan Nathan's cookbook The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, which contains lots of things that are nice even if you're not Jewish and even if it's not a holiday. You do probably need at least a bit of a kitchen, though.

These salads are good for a party or something because they are supposed to be made a day in advance, go well on crackers, and make six cups each, which is a group-sized amount. But you could always halve the recipe if you have a hot date or something. Lucky you.

You will need:

4 regular-sized eggplants (i.e. not the mini ones)
2 white onions
4 cloves garlic
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 lemons
6 tablespoons tomato paste
6 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons ketchup
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

Cut the eggplants in half and chop them up into 1/2-inch or so squares. Don't bother peeling them, but keep two chopped eggplants in one bowl and the other two in another, since you'll be making two salads, each with two eggplants.

Sprinkle all the eggplant with salt, then pour a lot of oil in a frying pan (probably about two inches of oil will do, but no need to get neurotic about it) and fry it in batches (however much will fit in the pan at once, except don't put more than one bowl of eggplant in together) until golden, which will probably take 10 to 15 minutes. Replenish the oil as needed.

Once the eggplant is cooked, divide again between the two bowls. Which won't be hard, since you were keeping track.

Chop both onions and put one in one eggplant bowl and one in the other. Then do the same with the four cloves of garlic (press them if you have a garlic press, chop them if you don't, then add two to each bowl).

Here's where the salads get different: To one bowl, add the mayonnaise, juice of three lemons, and salt and pepper to taste. I know I've said this before, but please remember that if you use bottled lemon juice, you will languish in purgatory for all eternity. I'm Jewish so I don't really know and I'll admit I didn't actually read all of Dante's Inferno when I took that Masterpieces of World Literature class, but I am under the impression that languishing in purgatory for all eternity is worse that going to hell. Although I don't see why it would be, at least you're not being consumed by scorching flames or whatever.

To the other bowl, add the tomato paste, ketchup, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix up and put them both in the fridge until the next day.

Personally, I think everyone ought to be encouraged to eat more raw onion, particularly those who have very exciting sex lives. Like why shouldn't they suffer too, know what I mean?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Online Dating

I know that lots of people are trying online dating these days and saying it could be the future of human interaction, so I've thought about the subject a lot. And I have decided after much consideration that, although I know a number of happy couples who met online and I'm sure you do too, online dating is not the future of human interaction, and actually will probably not work for the majority of people who try it.

This decision was hard to come to, because online dating sort of seems like it was custom-made for someone like me who is spectacularly afraid of social rejection, likes to go to bed at 10 PM, talks way too much out of nervousness, and is generally the sort of girl who buys panties in an extra-large value pack at the drugstore. I do enjoy window shopping at fashionable boutiques, so I know there are girls who buy really cute lacy panties that have cheeky designs on them like flowers across the bum. Those girls don't need online dating, probably.

In any case, I will list the arguments most often given in favour of online dating, then will address them one at a time, like I did with clubbing:

1) It's a more efficient use of time because it's mostly people who are looking for the right relationship who do online dating, so you don't have to deal with people who just want to mess around.
2) It's a more efficient use of time because you don't have the time or resources to go out and meet enough people any other way.
3) It's a more efficient use of time because you can focus immediately on people who share your interests.
4) It's a more efficient use of time because you don't have to go through the whole rigamarole of flirting and playing around and can cut right to the chase.
5) It's a more efficient use of time because at least you're going out on dates when you do online dating.

Here are my responses to these arguments:

1) It's actually not a more efficient use of time. My assumption, which I believe to be correct, is that everyone on earth is theoretically looking for the right relationship for them, but that does not mean the right relationship for them is with me or you. This is true online as well as off.

2) It's actually not a more efficient use of time. If you don't have the time or resources to meet people any other way, what you are saying is that you do not have an active social life. I don't believe that I of all people am saying this, but if you don't have an active social life, you should reassess your priorities because online dating will not solve your problem. Even if you meet a great significant other, you will probably continue to be unhappy because you will continue to not have an active social life. By the same token, if you do have an active social life, you will probably find you don't really need online dating.

3) It's actually not a more efficient use of time. Shared interests, like liking the same movies or the same sports, don't matter at all. Chemistry and shared values matter. If you have those, you will surely be able to open your mind to the other person's interests. Someone's online profile can't tell you anything about their values or the chemistry they may have with you.

4) It's actually not a more efficient use of time. Do you think you could accurately assess whether or not you found someone attractive on the basis of seeing them only once in such a contrived situation? I couldn't.

5) It's actually not a more efficient use of time. Going out on dates with arbitrary people doesn't mean you are getting closer to finding the right person. Granted I may be unusually hard to like, but I would say that in order to make a new friend, which is to say someone who can stand talking to me for more than five minutes and laughs at at least one of my jokes, I probably need to meet between 50 and a hundred people - and that's to make a friend. To meet a significant other, the odds will obviously be far less favourable, since you only have one of those at a time. This means that when someone met their partner through online dating, even if they say they went on tons of bad dates, they probably actually had a stroke of luck pretty close to the beginning because I can assure you that nobody will go on three thousand or so bad blind dates. You will burn out way before you get to that point.

As far as I can tell, the best answer to dating woes is still to just be a social animal and try to meet new people naturally. That way, if you have nothing to say to someone, politeness won't demand that you sit with them and have a coffee for an utterly tedious hour. And if you do have something to say to someone, you can go for an untedious coffee with them, and you can say it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

That's Just How He Is

Want to know something I hate that I bet has happened to you too? I hate it when you're talking to a group of people and one of them who isn't particularly a friend of yours starts talking about something pretentious and retarded, like what he thinks of people who have never heard of obscure French poets, or how many girls he's slept with, or something. So then later, you remark to someone else who was there who you thought was really a friend of yours but it turns out is at least also really a friend of theirs that you think this particular person seems like a jerk. And then the friend says this:

"Oh no, you don't understand! That's just how he is."

Oh, now I get it, that's just how he is! A jerk.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bachelor Cooking and Chocolate Chip Cookies

A number of you have mentioned to me that you find "bachelor cooking," or cooking by oneself for oneself, to be lonely and laziness-inducing. This is a problem with which I sympathize and identify. However, I think it's important to find a way to overcome it, because if you can manage to cook for yourself on a somewhat regular basis, you actually will feel less lonely. I admit I have no scientific basis for this statement, but I really have a feeling it's true.

In light of that, I have a recommendation. My recommendation is the cookbook Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual. I believe I got this cookbook for my third birthday in 1988, and yes indeed, I still use it, so it's not just for kids, although the recipes in it are outrageously easy and use only ingredients that can be bought at the corner store. It's still in print, so you can get it at any bookstore, or on Amazon right here.

The best part of this cookbook isn't the easiness or the convenience, although those are good things. The best part is that the cartoonish illustrations will actually keep you company, and you will instantly feel like you're not all by yourself. I am not joking. Take a look at this:


I mean, you can't not want to make that recipe. It's practically begging you to procrastinate on whatever else you have to do so you can make it. And fortunately, this is the only chocolate chip cookie recipe you or your grandma will ever need, because it is practically perfect in every way.

I say practically perfect and not perfect because it's actually a little sweet for my taste. So I've cut the amount of sugar in half, but if you like really sweet cookies, use a half cup of white and a half cup brown. I've used a quarter cup of each.

Here's my version, which makes about 15 cookies. You will need:

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/8 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 bag chocolate chips

BTW, in general, don't use fake stuff. Fake butter, fake lemon juice, and fake vanilla extract are probably the reasons you think you're not a good cook.

Back to the cookies. In a small pot over low heat, melt the butter. When it's just melted and while it's still hot, add both sugars and stir, then let cool. Meanwhile, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl.

In a separate small bowl, beat the egg a bit with a fork, then add that and the vanilla to the sugar-and-butter mixture. Add this wet mixture to the dry mixture in the mixing bowl and stir everything until it's all combined.

Now the most important part: put the bowl in the fridge for an hour to chill. I know it's annoying, but if you skip this step, the chocolate chips will melt before you even get them in the oven, which means you will have chocolate cookies and not chocolate chip. Which is fine, obviously, so if that's what you want, go ahead and don't put it in the fridge.

If you want to make chocolate chip cookies and are concerned about having to fill your time productively while the cookie dough is in the fridge, fear not, because I have compiled a short list of Wikipedia articles to keep you entertained during that time:

Dr. Seuss
Pad Thai
The Jewish Mother Stereotype

When the hour is up, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 190 degrees Celsius. Then grab a cookie sheet, but don't grease it. Trust me, there is a shit ton of butter in these cookies. There's no way they'll stick to the bottom. Just roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and place them on the cookie sheet, like so:


Then press the chocolate chips into the tops of the cookies, like so:


You can add the chocolate chips to the batter right after you take it out of the fridge if you want to, but I like this way of doing it because it ensures the chips are evenly distributed.

Now stick the cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. Yup, just 10. Whatever you do, do not overcook. And on a side note, don't put the cookies any closer together than I did, because they will spread when you bake them.


This goes without saying, but please do not do anything foolish like eat the whole pan of these late at night when you're drunk. The only way to properly enjoy them is in broad daylight, like so:


That front cookie is sort of falling apart because I totally didn't let them cool before I tried to transfer them to a plate. But even so, you've got to admit these cookies look pretty darn tasty.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Illusionist

I'm not talking about the big flashy movie that came out a number of years ago of the same name, starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel. I'm talking about a small animated movie with very little dialogue that's out right now. It's closing soon in Toronto, where I'm based, so if you're based here too, try and see it ASAP if you can. If you're based somewhere else, see whether it's playing and for how long. It's a simple and quiet movie, but very much worthwhile.

The story is actually so simple it feels bizarre: an old-fashioned sort of magician, gaunt, baggy-eyed, and hunched over, travels around pulling a rabbit out of a hat and a bouquet of flowers from up his sleeve for sparse audiences. One show he does is at a pub in the Scottish highlands, where he meets a local girl working as a chambermaid. Noticing her ragged shoes, he buys her some new ones, presenting them to her as though it's a magic trick by pulling them out of the air. She is delighted, and follows him to Edinburgh, where she is seduced by all the fancy clothes in the windows of the big city shops. He has to work harder and harder to support her increasingly expensive tastes, while she all the while persists in thinking he is producing the pretty things by magic.

This movie is visually lovely and, as I've said, contains practically no dialogue, รก la Triplets of Belleville. To watch it is to appreciate how much in life goes unsaid.

However, there is one very strange thing about The Illusionist, which was illuminated by this letter that Tati's grandson apparently sent to the movie critic Roger Ebert. The very strange thing I'm talking about is the nature of the relationship between the magician and the chambermaid. Though it seems vaguely to have the tenor of a romance, there is little if any romantic chemistry between the two characters and the movie somewhat oddly makes a point of showing you that they never sleep together. They actually have little chemistry of any kind, never mind romantic. The girl points out her heart's desire for that day, and the magician procures it for her.

Tati's grandson explains that the original script envisioned a father-daughter sort of relationship, which makes sense to me now, but I could not have described this relationship that way or any way on the basis of watching the movie.

Still, this picture is a gem, and you should see it if you can.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

More on the Tiger Mother

Not being a parent myself, I can't really offer an informed opinion on whether Amy Chua's parenting technique is a good one. However, two things she says in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother make me think she understands children quite well. These are the things:

1) Sleepovers (which Ms. Chua prohibits her daughters from attending) are most often essentially a group of unsupervised children who taunt and exclude each other all night and, contrary to popular Western parental belief, are actually not that much fun.

2) Her daughter Sophia is, according to Ms. Chua, able to withstand humiliation and loneliness better than practically anyone.

I don't know whether this quality of Sophia's was fostered by her strict upbringing, but it is an excellent quality indeed, and Ms. Chua is right to admire it. It seems to me that what Ms. Chua is doing with her daughters, more than attempting to produce extremely high achievers, is attempting to shield them from the overwhelming trauma and loneliness of childhood. I don't know whether this is actually possible, but at least Ms. Chua is aware of this thing, the trauma and loneliness of childhood.

I can commend my Jewish mother on also being aware of it, and on having her own special approach to sleepovers. While she let me go to them, she hung around in the living room of the house where the sleepover was taking place making chitchat with the mother who was hosting the thing for several hours after dropping me off, then called the house every 20 minutes thereafter to make sure I was having a good time. Being quite the opposite of Sophia, I would have to say that Amy Chua's assessment of sleepovers is absolutely correct.