this is the descendants

*I'll admit I went into The Descendants with high expectations. When I had first seen the preview a month ago, I had told myself, "there's no way in hell I'll watch a movie in which the most action-packed scene is George Clooney blundering down a Hawaiian road in sandals" (yes, I have very specific criteria for movies), but after the umpteenth recommendation to watch it, including many whole-hearted assurances that this was one of Clooney's best performances, I gave in.

(Let me add here that I am not an avid fan of George Clooney, so I'm not sure why this assurance was at all convincing.)

*As a result of my expectations, I spent the duration of the movie waiting. Waiting for a crystallizing moment in which I would feel the weight and pathos of the quiet tragedy around which this movie revolves: a wife and mother's comatose state. But that moment never arrived, and the whole narrative of the movie was underwhelming. Like Little Miss Sunshine, The Descendants seemed to point to the absurdity of ordinary tragedies, like having to steal your dead grandfather's body from a hospital in order to get to a beauty pageant on time (Little Miss Sunshine) or discovering that your unconscious wife was having an affair with a real estate agent of second-degree connection (The Descendants). Both movies explore the interrelational dynamics of families whose dysfunctions were previously buried and unspoken, but finally realized in the wake of a tragedy. But unlike Little Miss Sunshine, there was hardly anything endearing about the characters in The Descendants, who should have been more interesting than they were presented as being. And that's all the more devastating for a movie like this, when as an audience member I want to know a character more, but the character development is so lacking that I'm left in want, a want which eventually dissolves into ambivalence...

*For me, the most palpable emotions of any character were that of Matt King's (George Clooney) father-in-law, a cantankerous old man who gives King grief for being a bad husband and father. It's so obvious to me how some of the deepest sadness can only be manifest through anger and bitterness because we don't know how to distill the sadness in any other manner. There's one scene in the movie where King is being reprimanded by the father-in-law, and the father-in-law is so obviously wrong, but King bears the old man's anger, as if he understands that the most terrible sadness is that a father has in having to face his dying daughter. That, for me, was the most touching scene in the entire movie.

*But aside from random moments, the entire movie seemed non-confrontational. Sometimes a lack of confrontation can be thought-provoking in its modest and understated nature, but for me this movie hardly had the substance or pathos to be that. The witty repartees and one-liners were nice to chuckle at, but as a whole the movie was a jagged and fragmented aggregate that seemed to hold back a little too much.

*But let it be known that I appreciated the Hawaiian shirts, a pattern and texture that carried nicely as a visual motif throughout the entire movie. That was a nice kitschy touch.


this is Christmas dinner

*Naomi and I spent all afternoon prepping and cooking dinner as a Christmas gift to our parents. Labor of love, man. Better than any material thing, right?

*It was a good meal with bad lighting, so I'll let you imagine what it looked like. It tasted delicious.


*The night ended with shots of espresso, and then Naomi and I headed out for a late-night screening of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Intense, dark, violently graphic, but I liked it. More on that later.

*Here's to the few remaining days of 2011...


this is shame

*In Steve McQueen's latest film Shame, the sex scenes do not feel frivolous or passionate. Sex in this movie cannot really be equated with love-making, and it certainly is not the fuel for or byproduct of any romance. Instead, it feels violently and strangely ascetic, as if sex, despite its normal linkage with immediate gratification, were a negating act and its repetition an attempt at clarifying the hollowness that was discovered in previous iterations. Whereas sex provides escapism for the characters in Shame, the sexual acts are confrontational for the viewers, and our response is intensely visceral: we oscillate between coiling away and staring back intensely. One moment we are sympathetic, perhaps even empathetic, and the next we are utterly disgusted. This is a movie that is concerned with the psychosis of human nature, the reality of how we unravel as we run away from ourselves.

*Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a 30-something year old working in New York City. He is unexpressive and piercingly cool, and his life is manicured like the urbane, cosmopolitan version of Pleasantville - if not for his raging sexual needs, which play out like a crack addiction.

*His younger sister, Sissy, played by a haunting and alluring Carey Mulligan, comes to live with him, which disrupts the patterns of his life. Her emotions constantly spill out, whereas his emotions are obscured by the motions of his daily life. She's wrecked and she knows it; he represses his wreckage and tries to wash it all away, through sex, through classical music, through pornography.

*The reason why this movie felt so ascetic, and at times, even antiseptic is not because of the subject matter. In fact, the subject matter makes the asceticism all the more ironic. After all, asceticism is tby definition abstention from worldly and sensual pleasures, and Brandon's "indulgences" are extreme and untempered. But the end-goal of both religious asceticism and Brandon's sexual activities , no matter the derangement of the means, is similar: mind-body transformation and a peace of mind, which some might call sanity. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote an essay called "What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?" in his book On the Genealogy of Morals in which he discusses the paradoxical nature of asceticism and ascribes it to the category of "Christian decadence." According to Nietzsche, asceticism is a mechanism used to preserve life, to prevent perishing from the pain of life. There's one scene in the movie where Brandon, after a tumultuous night that ends in tragedy, is at the edge of a dock, soaked in rain, fallen on his knees, crying out in anguish. This is one of the most emotive scenes in the movie on his part, and it evokes images of The Scream by Edvard Munch, or that one scene in Little Miss Sunshine when the Nietzsche-obsessed brother discovers he is color-blind and screams his head off in a ditch on the side of the freeway. Whatever the associations, it's a scene that embodies both the raw agony and the sigh of relief that follows a C-section pregnancy - at least that's what it feels like. I mean that seriously.

*The attempts to anesthetize and antisepticize that precede this release reminded me of the emotional tenor that resonates through the plot lines of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange and Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road (the novel forms of both). Unlikely connections, but the fundamental idea of not being able to face oneself, or not knowing what to do with oneself - an idea that poses a problem without an answer - is present in all three. You find yourself in a helpless body with a mind of its own or a mind out of control; as a result, the characters are more sympathetic and relatable than one might think a sex addict and a wrist-slitting, homeless jazz singer would be. But what propels Shame forward more than anything else are the scenes that are not shown and the words that are not spoken, the ones that are understood but are too violent, too unbearably real to be plotted out onscreen. And somehow, Steve McQueen conveys these absences impeccably, in a way that is more striking and more graphic than any of the sex scenes in the movie itself.


this is here and there in the kitchen

*I always imagine my time at home as one long lull, an unbroken interlude of nothingness in between time at school. This is the last one, I guess. It's strange to think that I've been in school for seventeen years, and that once I graduate in May, I will no longer be able to place specific short-term markers on my life, like I've done for so long. "In two years, I'll graduate." "I go home in two weeks." "Summer vacation is in three months." "Twelve days until the semester ends." I've lived my life so long knowing the next place I'll go and the next thing to do. Of course, I could continue to live my life that way - as so many of my classmates are, but there's something about not knowing that is unbelievably freeing and surprisingly thrilling.

*This break, my last official "winter vacation," I had planned on spending a good deal of time in the kitchen, but surprisingly, there has been little to no time for that - which is not regrettable because that time has been spent well, mostly in the company of good friends - but I've made a few things here and there.

*Three greens pesto: rosemary, pumpkin seeds, kale

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Three Greens Pesto
Makes around 1 cup

1 sprig rosemary
2-3 kale leaves*
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
5 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup EVOO, or more if needed
1/4 cup parmesan or nutritional yeast for vegans**

*The raw kale gives this pesto a very grassy taste. I like that, but if you don't, sub 1/2 cup fresh spinach.
**I used nutritional yeast, but if you can eat cheese, I would also suggest a hard pecorino, which would kick the flavor of this pesto up a notch.

Strip the leaves from the rosemary and discard stem. Blend all ingredients in food processor until smooth (or you can leave slightly chunky). Add additional EVOO until pesto is desired consistency.
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*Rosemary-roasted spaghetti squash, sauteed with spinach and three greens pesto.


this is a loaf of love

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*this is a dense loaf, heavy with the strongest of platonic loves, inimitable traditions, walks on cold winter mornings, unspoken romances, cheap thrills, twinkling eyes, wednesday afternoon light, and mutual understandings.
*other ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, sugar, baking powder, sea salt, vanilla extract, vanilla bean, dried lavender buds