Friday, November 30, 2007

Cubicle Glory

I got my very own cubicle today. It has walls, and a shredder and file drawers in which to stash chocolate reserves. It has a nice lamp and a irritating neighbours with loud, nasal voices. It has a trash can and poker chips. It's great for posing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Folk Wisdom

Last week I took two cab rides. Usually I like talking to cab drivers, but for both of the rides I was looking forward to sitting quietly in the back on the super-squishy cab seats that you know are filthy and watching the scenery. Scenery-watching is something one gets to do very little of in this city. We're all steering something usually. I wonder if fewer drivers and more passengers, just as state of travel, would change how we look at the city and make the city feel different. Most of the shapes that make up this city are very ugly; it's the crannies and the pockets where you find the beauty.

Anyway, both cab drivers were from Armenia and they cracked open the door of conversation with the thin wedge of one question.

The first cabbie asked me if I drank coffee (it was 7am). I said no, and the verbal heavens opened. He talked long about the evils of caffeine and at barely an interjection from me, jumped quickly into the topic of how to eat foods properly (no liquids with your meals and fruit only on an empty stomach) which is an easy slide into the medical industry. It was amazing how much mileage he got from my responses. I probably put forward thoughts and responses at the rate of one every five minutes. I would say he was quite happy to keep talking except for how generally disgruntled his tone was throughout.

The second cabbie asked me why I got my car repaired so far away from my house, which is a question I was asking myself at the time. That took us through old cars, foreign cars, to being foreign. This seemed to be the nucleus of his conversational mojo. We took some brief detours through the cabbie strike at city hall (they didn't want to have to wear uniforms) but mostly we stayed on the main route of leaving Armenia in 1992 and coming to America. The best part about this story was his immigration story: After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was not longer almost impossible to leave the country, but the US subsequently made it much more difficult to emigrate in. The old reasons to flee didn't hold water anymore so when he pleaded his case, he did it on the basis that he was a communist and he was persecuted in his homeland by people who hated communism (having recently escaped it). And it worked and he got in.

That part of the story made up for the loss of two quiet car rides looking out the window.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Overheard in Target Yesterday

Kid to dad: But there's no limit, you didn't say a limit, so I can get something worth a hundred bucks!

Dad: Uh...

Mom: There's a limit, there's a limit, tell her the limit.

(Toy section)

. . . . .

Mom: I'm not spending all the money I made yesterday. I'm just not.

(Toy section, next aisle over)

. . . . .


Kid: waaaaAAAAA!

(Clock aisle)

. . . . .

Despite this, shopping for things to deck the halls with was really fun. There's a doc coming out called WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY (great title) about consumerism during Christmas. I'm hoping it takes a more interesting tack than "Wow, Christmas is supposed to be about the spirit and we turn it into a chaotic buy-, eat- and drink-fest." Because I think people need a time of year in which to go slightly insane and eat too much. And anyway, the Christians just moved the date of Christmas to bump a pagan festival so they could make people pick Jesus over their own pantheon. As a result, I have no qualms not mentioning Christ except in pretty songs during Christmas. I also have no qualms about buying, eating and drinking more than I otherwise would.

Of course, it is only November at this point.

I also think it's completely normal for people who would not describe themselves as Christian to celebrate Christmas or otherwise get down with the tinsel and hors d'oeuvres and nog and tree. I don't think of myself as particularly Christian and I don't think you have to be to enjoy raising a glass to how good the year has been.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Volvo Odyssey

The week before last, I was supposed to take my road test to get my California driver's license. That's right: I get to show that I know how to signal and shoulder-check and parallel park. This is because I don't have a license from another state already. My British friend Claire told me that during her road test the examiner spent the whole time talking about his kids and showed her pictures of them while she was driving. Was that part of the test? I guess not: she looked at them and still passed. It is kind of comical to think of being examined on your driving skills in Los Angeles. How hard can it be to pass? Can you drive really fast on the freeway? Yes: pass. My favorite LA driving move, is the blinker signaling one direction and then the car turning in the opposite direction. Along with people in neck braces and mattresses on the side of the freeway, a sign of my California home.

But I didn't take my road test, because my car's brake lights weren't working. Come January, my car will be 20 years old. I'm seriously considering throwing it a party when it turns 21. Taking it to Vegas maybe. It's a Volvo, the old kind, the kind that shows up as a character's car in a certain kind of movie more than any other car. In fact, my car has been in a lot of movies, from the first thing I ever made for school, to other people's shorts, to the 546 I produced, to the feature I worked on this summer. It's a famous car.

And because I love my car so much, I stand by it during the tough times. This year, I've probably dropped 2 grand on repairing it and getting it shipshape for registering it in California. I do this because I still see many Volvos of the same age and older on the road, and a lot of the parts that I'm currently replacing are original. This is my car's tough year. This is its return of Saturn year (the planet, not the car). The bureaucratic process of getting the car registered in California has taken six months of appointments and paperwork and repairs. I just got the plates in the mail last weekend, and it's now officially a California car. Too bad the California plates are so boring and cheesy.

Anyway, just got it back from repairs: the brake lights are working, it has new spark plugs and new fuel filters and changed oil and topped up washer fluid. And the back compartment continues to be maggot-free.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Current Obsession

I've known this song for a long time, but only the Rod Stewart version. I liked that enough to put on an album I made for my mom of all songs about trains (next up this Christmas: album of songs about planes). Suddenly I've decided to listen my way through all the Tom Waits tracks I have on my computer, and I get this revelation.

Ah, this is how this song is supposed to be: deranged and messy, howled at the moon. "They're just thorns without the rose/Be careful of them in the dark"


No Country for Old Men

Last night I saw No Country for Old Men and I'm still thinking about it. I'll probably be thinking about it all week. Everyone I know who has seen this movie has seen it twice. I'll probably make my way back to the theatre sometime this holiday week.

But this movie has one of the best endings of a movie that I've ever seen. For one, there's nothing like a cut to black for a bold ending. It seems like a minor thing, but the psychology of a fade versus a cut is very different, especially for the last frame of picture. The first Pirates movie has a great ending that uses this (an ending, I would argue, that did as much to secure the subsequent sequels as the overall fun of the preceeding hundred-and-something minutes). In fact, the cut to black in both these movies seems to point out the greatness of the ending. Like the editors throw in that hard cut while yelling "BOOM, howdya like me now?" in their heads. The New World has a very good ending. Eyes Wide Shut has a very good ending. Brokeback Mountain has a spectacular ending.

And No Country. Well, I don't want to be spoiling anything for anyone, but when a filmmaker manages to find a moment so telling that it cuts right to the heart of the matter and encompasses all that has come before in a deft flick of the wrist, and then places that moment on screen, right when the film is leaving you alone with your thoughts, that can be called a masterpiece of the medium. I think anyone who loves movies is looking for that moment-- when you get dropped down again in your world and realize you are in a different place than you were when you started.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Skin Glue

My recent domestic mystery is what the hell do I keep slicing the fingers of my left hand open on every morning? This is still happening. Investigations of the shower door and the bathroom mirror have proved fruitless. It's something small, razor sharp (I don't notice the cuts until a couple of minutes after it's happened) and something I touch after I get out of the shower (because if it was before the soap would sting).

This is like in high school when Katie's dad was so persnickety about his computer and what you were and weren't allowed to do on it that Katie and I programmed it to make a weird sound every time he hit the "Z" key but with a ten-minute delay. I'm sure I'll be on the other side of learning not to antagonize smart teenagers at some later point in my life, but right now, I still think it's pretty brilliantly annoying.

Having razor cuts on the pads of my fingers is not brilliant, however, it's just annoying. Especially when I spend all day typing things. Bandaids are big and clumsy and make me look like a cutter.

Luckily Rite-Aid sells "Liquid Skin", which paints on and is weird, but oh so handy. My personal arsenal on my desk at work now: tissues for uncontrollable snot problems, lip balm for mouth-breathing, and liquid skin for my open wounds.

I Am A Horrible Person

And here's why:

Yesterday I went to see a free movie, which necessitated standing in line for a while. Andy and I had hoped to eat some enormous pancakes beforehand, but our plans were foiled by the insane popularity of the Griddle Cafe on Sunday mornings. It was a restaurant absurdity rarely sighted in LA in which the number of people sitting and eating was evenly matched by the number of people standing and waiting.

Anyway, Andy parked near a bagel place and I parked near the theatre, so I waited in line and he got some breakfast carbs. So I'm standing, waiting in line with all these other people who are on the Creative Screenwriting mailing list and this guy lines up behind me and starts chatting me up. Normally I find this flattering, and even if I don't find the person attractive, the encounter is kind of interesting or at the very least entertaining. This guy was deeply unattractive and also deeply uninteresting and also deeply awkward. At one point he asked me if I was "an artiste of sorts" (that's pronounced "ar-TEEST") and at another point gave his reason for moving to LA as being something that happened due to "the winds of fate".

I gave what I thought were pretty clear social clues that I was no longer interested in talking to him, like turning away for long stretches of time and giving terse answers. I'm too much of a chickenshit to be super jerky and make a fake phone call or just tell him I didn't want to talk to him. But he was impermeable to any hint that the conversation was not fun for me. We were not talking about anything interesting, he kept asking me personal questions, and we were stuck in a line. At one point, we heard a car crash down the street and I thought, "Thank Christ, a diversion!" But he was not to be deterred.

Maybe it was Sunday morning crabbiness or the lack of pancakes, but I found myself getting increasingly annoyed at him and not just because he wouldn't let me out of the conversation, but because I was out of his league. Which is a terrible thing to say, and classist, and materialistic and superficial and completely true. I was offended that he thought he could chat me up.

But it's true, right? People pair with people who match their level of desirability. My psych textbook chose to illustrate this with photos of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, and Rhea Pearlman and Danny DeVito. This is a central concern in casting characters who are couples: would you believe that these two people are together? I know real life couples in which one person is considerably better-looking than the other and I wonder about the dynamic between them. When the cluster of attractive traits is imbalanced, it's weird.

This is why you can decide not to like someone because they have shitty taste in music.

I guess I should maybe call this post, "I Am A Superficial, Though Realistic, Person"

The story ended with the line starting to move and me waiting at the theatre door for Andy while my dogged companion went to score a great seat. Andy showed up a few minutes later with bagels, narrowly missing being introduced as my husband.

The movie was good. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". Dude gets paralyzed and his ex-wife who he had never actually ended up marrying stays by his side even though he is grotesque. He had a great personality, though.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bang vs Whimper

I saw American Gangster this weekend. It was great. It's satisfying to see a 20th century period movie in which the plot isn't "WOOOOOO BELLBOTTOMS!!!! Remember those!???" and "HA HA- REMEMBER HOW MUCH BETTER WEED AND MUSIC WERE THEN?" Basically, I'm sick of boomer-themed nostalgia for a golden era. Forest Gump being the worst offender. I think I picked this up from reading too many old MAD magazines from the late 70s when I was a kid. They were great (the "Quoth the Reagan" pisstake stays in the memory) but I think they warped my brian on the topic of hippies and yuppies and 60s nostalgia in general. In American Gangster, you see those polyester shirts and they look kind of cool but you can also imagine how bad the armpits smell. There is a "what's a microwave?" scene, but everyone gets to make a mistake. But all round, a great movie, wonderful performances, and those delicious scenes wherein inevitable consequences manifest in surprising ways. Great script. And a couple of scenes that don't necessarily have much to do with the plot per se, but that chill you to the bone.

Saw that Saturday night. Sunday morning in the park saw a great period costume involving handweights, a visor and those rubber suits people used to wear to dehydrate themselves/lower their weight.

Sunday afternoon, caught Richard Kelly's Southland Tales at school. Here's what's good: the Rock, throughout (why is the Rock sexy? Because he's so cheesy and he knows it and loves it?), Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler yelling at each other, Justin Timberlake's music video lip-sync to "All These Things That I've Done" (FUCKING AMAZING), what happens right before and during the Pixies, a digital ad for SUVs, fog, casting Sarah Michelle Gellar as a porn star, Wallace Shawn (obviously), and John Larroquette (obviously).

What's bad? The rest of it. And think about it: there's a lot of stuff in this movie. So most of it is shit. Nonsensical poo, folks. I know that dashes your Darko hopes, but it's true.

Kat says she saw Richard Kelly at the gym once and that she thinks he's insane. This seems fair, as observing someone at the gym seems like a pretty good way to ascertain their degree of sanity. She says she thinks he's a nerd cum jock cum artboy, which would surely make anyone crazy.

This is sad. Donnie Darko was, I thought, a pretty exciting movie. But I'm starting to think it was a masterpiece best attributed to some producers and editors. The director's cut of this movie takes mystery and tension and gives you boring answers that you end up not caring about. Richard! Dude! Just direct music videos! You were magic at capturing strange 80s nostalgia and millenium tension in the same beat and you brought back Tears For Fears like nobody's business. And Patrick Swayze!

The Rolling Stones didn't quite say that you can't always make what you want, but perhaps they should have and I would add: and you shouldn't get to.

"Reality Ends Here" Ends Here

I spent the last few days at the American Film Market, which is where the most movies get bought and sold every year. And yet people don't know about it like they way they've heard of Cannes or Toronto or Berlin or, to a lesser degree, Sundance. This is because there is no pretense of artistic merit at AFM-- it's just pure, unadulterated commerce. What people want to watch, they will buy. Or at least what people think other people want to watch, they will buy. It's pretty refreshing, in a way. Not that I've been to lots of film festivals, but I feel like I'm already tired hearing about movies that everyone got excited about because everyone else got excited about because they hit enough hip targets to make people think they should get excited about it. Sure, there are some cool movies that come out of festivals. But there are some stupid-ass, pretentious, snore-fest, indy darlings that are crap, too.

This is something that never really got taught in film school, except in writing and pitch classes. If no one wants to pay money to see your movie, don't make it. My parents clip a lot of newspaper articles on films for me, because they are dear like that, and there's this one that's all about Jack Valenti's advice for aspiring filmmakers. His point #1: Make movies that people want to see. And his point #2: Don't make movies people don't want to see. That's it. Seems simple, and it's not as simple as it seems, but it's not rocket science either (speaking of boring movies that are indy darlings). Whatever qualms I have about entering the corporate end of things instead of being able to persue ADing or writing full time are quelled when I realize that my new job is basically the complicated, reality flipside of everything I got taught at USC.

Hey Mickey

Last weekend my friend Rhonda brought her kid Zara to Disneyland and I met up with them. We did this two years ago too, and I had kind of a personality renaissance and realized I could be one of those people who really likes Disneyland and still be okay with myself. I've been a couple times since, with Phil, as a pre-production bonding experiment before 546 (smartest producing move we made) and with my parents (rained, cold, boulder malfunctioned in the Temple of Doom), and with Katie (sunny and fun) but what I learned is that no day in Disneyland can compare with the day you spend there with a little kid.

I think I talked before about how much more fun each ride is when it involves a child shrieking, "I want to sit with Robyn!!!" while you're in line. But really, a kid adds fun to the entire day. For example:


I enter.

Zara: Do you have to go to the bathroom?

Me: Yes

Zara: Why?

Me: (thinking) Uh, same reason anyone has to go to the bathroom. And because I drank a lot of water in the car on the way over.

Zara: Oh.

No adult is going to have this conversation with you. It's too weird.

Rhonda refers to these as "Zara's Nanny McPhee teeth".

Even people's kids you don't know are spectacularly hilarious. When we were in the Tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki room drinking pineapple floats and giving ourselves type 2 diabetes, a little boy got so freaked out at the plastic singing parrots that he wouldn't stop screaming and trying to burrow into his mother's chest. They eventually left, but not before I ceded him the point that the robotic parrots with their national identities (florid, Parisian Pierre; jovial, Irish Michael; terse, German Fritz; and the ringmaster Jose) are kind of morose and weird. Maybe he was freaked out by the intense 50s-ness of the room. I always think a little Sambo's going to jump out and start dancing and that would be received as very droll and delightful and we'd all chuckle and then go have a Mai Tai on the veranda.

And no one has a voracious appetite for spinny rides that make you want to hurl like a little kid. This can be both good and bad. I'm looking forward to her getting a voracious appetite for roller coasters.