Sunday, September 12, 2010


My favorite actresses are Laura Linney and Frances McDormand. They are always unflinchingly courageous, exploring diverse roles and demonstrating a wide range. But I swear, Angelina Jolie is perhaps the only woman with the raw athleticism and fierce features to transform a mediocre action movie into a red-hot thriller.

Jolie navigates elevator shafts and subway systems, survives devastating car crashes, and kills tons of men along the way. She camouflages herself in a variety of situations and uses creative weapons. My favorite scene is Jolie in action as she tries to either save or assassinate the Russian president at a funeral. The pipe organ collapses and makes a tremendous sound just before she places a bomb in the floor where the man is standing. As a feminist, I just can't deny the tinge of glee I get from seeing strong, smart women do great big things.

Salt is not a mediocre thriller. It does a lot of interesting things that I haven't seen in the genre for a long time. In an age of more and more pointed racism towards Arabic people, many movies are joining forces in an effort to make the film more topical and relevant. By using the Cold War, the filmmakers are able to take more licenses without being disrespectful or making crass gestures towards 9/11. And yet, it uses the residual sentiments and conspiracy theories to move the story forward.

Salt is a distinctly American movie and watching it made me realize some strange things about the American condition. Not a single thing about all this seemed remarkably implausible for me. America has a such a strong distaste for government, that we are always prepared to believe the most outlandish explanation rather than the easiest. The idea that Russia might still be out to get us isn't so difficult to believe. Its as if cynicism has made a complete 360, taking us right back where we started from, blindly believing incredulous falsehoods.

I digress. Regardless, the incredible acrobatics, chase scenes, and closeness with the world's most mysterious country make this an incredible escapist film that is relevant, without the finger wagging.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Women's Suffrage Day!

Its a man's world unless women vote.

I despise Disney. I also despise their depiction of this suffragette. But every time I vote, I sing this song.

And then, when I hear the word suffragette, I think of this prank. I think it originally aired on The Man Show. Shame, shame, shame.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Extended Adolescence

This week The New York Times published a titanic article about the a new category in developmental psychology entitled "emerging adulthood." They go on to characterize this population as people who return to live with parents, go through jobs quickly, are not in committed relationships, and are generally unstable. The writer, Robin Henig, concludes that though there is no desire to coddle this group of people, they clearly need some additional help.

Of course, I feel particularly compelled to comment on this trend because it describes me relatively well. I've dodged the bullet of living with my parents, but I'm not in a relationship, I've gone through several jobs, and I have a bachelors degree. What strikes me as so odd about this article is that there is no mention of the great things we were doing as teenagers. People had a lot of hope in our generation. Just a few years ago we were breaking records for community service and being characterized as overachievers academically and athletically. We were ready to be a force in our world.

And now we are being characterized as a group that has been looking for itself so long that its been lost. It seems so unfair. Not to mention, it sounds like a little projection from the Boomers.

Clearly something else is going on here. For myself, I can say that I'm educated and looked long and hard for a position that was well-aligned with my career goals. Instead I work harder than I ever have in my life and make pennies above minimum wage. I'm not terribly bitter about it anymore. I really like my job and I'm getting used to the fact that the effort me and my family put into my education just didn't have an obvious, immediate impact on my value in the work place. So many of the people I graduated with are in similar places doing landscaping, working retail, waiting tables. These are labor intensive jobs. Hard work that doesn't facilitate constant floundering or flakiness, even if it is at worst transitional work.

I've never understood economics, but it seems that is the only missing piece of the puzzle. My generation isn't diseased with extended adolescence. We've worked hard while we've been on this planet. We were the first people to grow up with a concept of sustainability and consumerism. Instead, we are suffering the consequences of a misguided, grown-up, "me generation."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Marilynne Robinson's Home

I was hoping to like Marilynne Robinson's book Home as much as I liked Gilead. Gilead is unforgivingly sentimental and not at all cynical. Every sentence is perfectly crafted. Not a single word is dispensasbile. This beauty and purposefulness is particularly graceful as it is the memoir of dying Rev. John Ames for his young son.

Home follows the story of Ames' friend Rev. Robert Boughton; Ames' namesake, Jack Boughton; and his sister Glory Boughton.
Jack has returned home after twenty years. His youth was fraught with petty theft, alcohol, and miscellaneous mischief and he has no doubt followed that road to its natural extension.

Ames seems to brim with goodness, thoughtfulness, grace. The goal is of his missive would certainly communicate these sentiments. Jack is equally sympathetic, its the peripheral characters I have a harder time understanding. He is perpetually trying to spare people from his life, rarely passing up an opportunity to be kind, and is ultimately crushed by the guilt of his past and compelled to drink. But no one, not even his sister Glory who has set her goal on knowing and loving her brother, helps him forgive himself. Forgiveness is such an important theme that it seems unnatural to have such an omission. Poor Jack is so busy getting forgiveness from everyone else, seeing himself from everyone else's eyes, that he is incapable of expecting anything but the worst from himself and therefore living in perdition.

What most naturally appeals to me about Robinson is her ability to seamlessly interject important pieces of philosophy and theology into her text. I was compelled to look up the proper definition of "perdition." Home poses a Calvinistic question regarding the existence of predestination. Jack has never been successful at much of anything. His idea of of himself combines fate and personal accountability, creating a life of hopeful, lofty expectations and, consequentially, failure. Jack constantly questions whether it was his fate to live among the dregs of society. Unfortunately, Jack's guilt is so blinding that he undoubtedly believes it is fate, only Glory will discover the truth of Jack's life and its ultimate goodness. Like so much of life, additional feedback is required to take better stock of our lives. Hopefully,by the grace of Christ, the goodness of the event will find him metaphysically, karmically.

There is a goodness that radiates from these books. A sense of love and peace that leaps from the page. In Gilead much of that was because of the century of family history and back story. It is much easier to achieve sympathy when the whole story is conveyed. Who knows why this grace was granted to a character who has lived a more or less "good" life rather than a "bad" one.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Month Vegan Strong!

I have some relatively strange reasons for choosing veganism. I've always wanted to be a vegetarian and have dabbled in it here and there. Veganism always sounded entirely too extreme. Factory farming aside, its not like it hurts a cow to get milked or a chicken to give an egg.

My life has been pretty crazy lately and all of a sudden I'm faced with more options than I've ever had. I've gotten rid of most possessions and got out of a relationship. Intentionally or otherwise I've lost so many things. Suddenly I could do anything I've ever wanted. A friend gave me some existentialist advice. "Freedom enslaves you because there are too many choices and you are solely responsible for them." I had to start with just one choice. Something I would have to deal with every day that would limit my options.

The result is something I'm very proud of. Even when I am most hard on myself, I know I am doing something that is good for the world and for myself. This month I've probably spent less than $80 on food. I've lost a good bit of weight. This definitely wasn't the goal, but I do feel better. I have more energy to deal with this $h!t storm.

I'm hoping that over the next thirty days I'll have some more substantial reasons. Perhaps this process will make me more conscientious about every aspect of my life, my connection to the world, and everything in it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Bechtler v. A Camera Lens

Today I went to Charlotte's newest museum, The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. The building itself is an architectural marvel, though many of the specific names within are only meaningful to those with sea legs in the art world. My own background is planted in medieval, renaissance, and artisan or craft work. But a closer look at art of the past two hundred years has changed the way I understand the artistic process and the value of coming face to face with art in a proper context.

The democratization of art has bled over into gross overexposure. I doubt that Leonardo ever intended Mona Lisa to be viewed under a microscope by every individual with a fifth grade education. Its grotesque, pornographic. Even the most trained eye loses any aesthetic sensibility. Its just a cracked mess with an impossible climate in the background.

Modern art uses so many new elements that a person looking at the work on the computer and the viewer in a museum truly see radical different paintings. The painting that most struck me at the Bechtler was Nicolas de Stael's Landscape. You can "see" it by clicking on the link above and clicking on the "Collections" tab. De Stael forces the viewer to reckon with the editorial decisions an artist makes. For two dimensional art, De Stael utilizes layers in a way I'm not sure I've seen before in a painting. In some places canvas is visible, while in others there are half inch globs, resulting in a cartographic effect. For me, this result requires all the self restraint of waiting for an elevator beside a fire alarm. I'm dying to touch it. To peel back the layers and see what was originally there. He gives us peaks. Tiny lines of blue and violet were spared in the editing . It looks awkward among the sea of drab and yellow, maybe even suspenseful.

The modernists saw the direction of increased viewership and participation and upped the ante. They had to make something that required aesthetics, skill, and something incapable of reproduction by the camera.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Blog

I've been wanting to start a blog for a long time. The main thing that has held be back was thinking of a name. I'm spread too thin to narrow a whole blog down to one topic. I love art, humanity, Christ, work, nonviolence, and philosophy. In short, I'm serious. Not the smartest nor the most ambitious, but I'm always thinking about what it means to live the good life.

That means reviews, ruminations, recipes, and rants. With a little less alliteration.