Citizen Watcher

Hot dog!

I'm a creature of routine.

So much so that one of my favorite things to do is watch my favorite movies or programs over and over and over AGAIN--so many times that I can basically recite all the words along.

Two of my favorite programs to re-watch are actually documentaries that are shown sometimes on PBS: A Hot Dog Program and Sandwiches You Will Like. Have you seen these shows? They're awesome. The filmmaker takes you to a bunch of hot dog and sandwich joints, talks to the owners and the customers, and throws in a lot of shots of great looking food. Just a couple of weeks ago, I sat down in front of the TV and thought, huh, I could really go for watching that sandwiches program. And then I turned the TV on and the hot dog program was running on PBS (or its extra digital channel, however that works). Close enough! Maybe this can be my super power: my sheer desire causing the TV to show whatever programs I feel like watching right then.

These shows are written and produced by Rick Sebak, who I really enjoy, so the other day I thought I'd be clever and see if my local library owned any other of his programs. They did: something titled Breakfast Special. I was excited to get it, but I must admit I was underwhelmed. As compared to his hot dog and sandwiches program, he profiled many fewer breakfast places, so the pace seemed much slower. And, although I love breakfast, this program just didn't make as hungry as his other shows do. Sigh. Back to hoping I still have the power to will the hot dog and sandwich programs onto PBS whenever I want to see them.

I must see it.

Have you seen the preview for the new movie coming out, based on Michael Lewis's excellent book Moneyball? Take a gander:

I love baseball. And I love Michael Lewis. And when I'm not thinking about him being with Angelina Jolie (who gives me the heebies) I still love Brad Pitt.* I'll always love Brad Pitt, for his part in A River Runs Through It, if nothing else. I've got to see this movie.

*And he's still so, so pretty, even as he ages. Men are disgusting, how they can do that.

Man, was she gorgeous.

My Yahoo homepage informs me that Elizabeth Taylor has passed away.

I was never a huge fan, but there are two movies of hers you absolutely must see: A Place in the Sun (which, title notwithstanding, is one DARK film) with Montgomery Clift, and Butterfield 8, which is just plain a spectacular movie. In fact, I need to see Butterfield 8 again, I can hardly remember it. I'll never forget A Place in the Sun, though; a million years ago when I was a film major I watched it a million times, to write a paper on Montgomery Clift. The two of them together onscreen is so beautiful it's breathtaking.

I've also wanted to read Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. Maybe that'll get me out of my reading funk.

We interrupt nonfiction news for a movie recommendation.

Just a short note today: If you haven't yet seen the movie Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, please do so. It's only about 100 minutes long and well worth it; it's based on a novel by Walter Kirn, that I'm now going to have to go find. And, unlike a lot of movies I watch based solely on the stars (which is why I saw The Ghost Writer, featuring everyone's favorite Scotsman, Ewan McGregor, a few months back) involved, I'm pretty neutral on George Clooney. But he hit this one out of the park, and so did his two female co-stars.

I don't think the preview does it justice, but in case you missed it when it was in theaters:

Monday odds and ends.

We had a successful weekend, I think. I enjoyed the Super Bowl, although I didn't watch the whole thing, having to switch over to Emma on Masterpiece Theatre during its last hour. I did make artichoke dip, and it was spectacular (thanks Katharine--great recipe! Marmota, now that I understand canned artichoke hearts, your recipe with spinach is the next one I'm trying). I made a total hog of myself with it. And the conclusion of Emma? I really enjoyed it. Not as much as I would have enjoyed it if PBS wasn't cheap and hadn't deleted scenes that were shown in the British version, but still...Below please find a clip from the ending with a nice extra scene between Knightley and Emma.

In reading news, I started the collection The Best Creative Nonfiction vol. 3, but I really only enjoyed the opening two essays by Sean Rowe and Julianna Baggott (about prison food and the novelization of her great-grandmother's operation of a whorehouse, respectively). I also started Malcolm Gladwell's collection of journalistic pieces titled What the Dog Saw, but was not in the mood. Finally I just gave up and started reading the actual novel of Emma, which I've never read before. (I know: gasp!) I thought maybe I should wait until after the movie isn't so clear in my mind, but what the hell. I'm enjoying it immensely anyway.

Hijacked by the TV.

I should have done more reading yesterday, but I'll admit that I was hijacked by my television for most of the evening. First, I enjoyed the Vikings loss (as only a Packers fan could) to New Orleans, and then Masterpiece Theatre ran the first part of its new production of Emma. I don't know that it will become my favorite Austen adaptation, but I already feel quite warmly toward it, as I saw an hour of it last year when I was in Great Britain. If I could have stayed there four weeks to catch all four hours, I would have!

I'm also enjoying it because it's a joy to watch Jonny Lee Miller knock the part of Mr. Knightley out of the park. Jeremy Northam was a good Mr. Knightley too, but Miller's bringing a bit more humor and a very appealing down-to-earth aspect to the role. Good stuff:

His double take at 1:40 makes me laugh every time. The dialogue here with Emma sarcastically asserting that a woman with a pretty face and not much wit will be "right at the back of the queue" with men is also spectacular. Kudos to screenwriter Sandy Welch, who also wrote the fantastic BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.

I think most PBS stations will re-run the program tonight after prime time if you missed it; otherwise, do check it out on DVD. Some people say there have been too many new Austen adaptations in recent years, but I am not one of them.

The great blizzard of aught-nine.

Okay, so I'm a couple of days late with this post, but let's put it this way: I am just now beginning to be able to sit down in and stand up from a chair without making horrible old-lady noises. This past Wednesday we got a lot of snow in Wisconsin (from the big blizzard that cut across the country and caused lotsa problems all over), and thanks to snow shoveling, I am now wracked with pain in muscles I didn't know I had. Weak girls with poor muscle tone should not shovel, evidently. But how am I ever going to get that buff bikini bod I've been dreaming of?*

There is nothing I like better in this sort of weather than to stay home** and read. As per usual, I'll be re-reading Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising (as we get a little closer to late December, which is the time period over which the book is set). And I'm also gearing up for my holiday watching: I am not a huge believer in tradition, and I certainly don't believe in decorating (too much work), but there are certain shows and movies I must see or it simply doesn't feel like Christmas. So here's what I'm lining up for the next few weeks:

A Charlie Brown Christmas; The Simpsons Christmas Special (where they get the dog; it's the first one and the best); The Vicar of Dibley Christmas Lunch Incident epsisode, and A Christmas Story (based on Jean Shepherd's book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash). Mr. CR and I are also next in line to get the second season of The Tudors from the library, which is not holiday-related but about which we are very excited anyway.

So, go ahead and snow,*** but only after I've got all my DVDs collected from the library.

*Yeah, right. I don't swim and I'm not going to learn how to swim expressly because I do not want to have to purchase a swimsuit of any kind.

**I like staying home in all types of weather, actually.

***I was not this sanguine the day before the big Wednesday storm. On Tuesday night I was watching the U.S. weather radar loop online and screaming, "slide south, you bitch!" Which is not nice for the people who live south of me, I understand, but which is my typical weather chant, good for rain- and snowstorms alike.

Nothing gold can stay.

Darrel Curtis,* also known as Patrick Swayze, has died at the age of 57.

Yes, I know this is a reading blog. I know I've spent too much time of late blabbing about entertainment and non-reading news. But as much as it is possible to be sorry about the death of someone you didn't know, I am sorry to hear this news. I thought he was a good actor (anyone who can pull off the line "nobody puts Baby in a corner" without laughing is a capital-A Actor) and from what little I have read about his personal life he seemed like a good guy. And who can forget the Saturday Night Live skit where he was involved in a Chippendales dance audition with Chris Farley?

A moment of silence, please. Then go rent Road House.* I watched it this summer on TV because it seemed like a movie I'd always heard of, but never watched. Sure, it's violent and terrifically dated. You still won't be sorry.

*Swayze played one of the Curtis brothers in the 1983 movie The Outsiders, based on the fantastic novel by S.E. Hinton. (What is S.E. Hinton doing these days, I wonder?) It was a great movie, and if you know it, you'll recognize the quote from today's blog heading. If you don't know it, watch it immediately, and see not only Swayze but later luminaries like Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, and Diane Lane.

**And can you believe the movie Point Break was made way back in 1991? I am getting SO OLD. Sorry. I know this is becoming a common phrase with me, but really, holy shit.

British humor interlude.

In the middle of four books today, two which are not really working out as planned* and two which are actually quite engrossing, but not lending themselves to commentary at this time. So as a comedic interlude, please enjoy this clip from the British sketch comedy show That Mitchell and Webb Look (please note one phrase in the clip** is not suitable for the workplace or little 'uns' ears:

And feel free to discuss: Are the British funnier than Americans? I say yes, but we already know I'm biased.

*And many thanks to wonderful citizen reader Beth, who sent a link to a glorious article about leaving books unfinished, which finishes with a Dorothy Parker-esque touch (playing on "this is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly--it should be thrown across the room with great force"--okay, score one for the American humor side). Thanks, Beth!

*Thanks to, of course, AustenBlog for the link.

It's the little things.

Earlier this week my friend Robert opined in the comments here that it's the little things that make you happiest. I have thought of this comment all week, and Robert, you are totally correct. Because yesterday I found this:

"Movie Title: The Men Who Stare at Goats. Release Date: November 6. Starring: Ewan McGregor."*

Goats I actually had to stop reading and typing and shake my arms in the air like toddlers do when they get over-excited when I read that. I don't know if I've ever reviewed it here, but Jon Ronson's book The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of the best nonfiction books EVAH.** It's all about journalist Ronson's journey to track down everything that is weird and horrible about the military, and then write it up in such a way that the reader doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. You know those creepy guys who you suspect get into the military just to someday be able to cause pain to their enemies, particularly weird psychological and brainwashing type pain? Ronson goes and finds those guys and talks to them. Amazing. And he's British, so he does it with a certain amount of bitter flair that an American just couldn't pull off.

And the Ewan McGregor part? That's just icing on the cake. I cannot WAIT until November 6...and in the meantime, I'm going to read The Men Who Stare at Goats again. I would highly recommend you do the same.

Have a good weekend, all.

*Further down the page I also learned that Michael Lewis's superlative book The Blind Side is also coming out in movie form later this fall. Awesome.

**This is also one of my all-time favorite book covers. It seems to me to sum up all that is ridiculous about men and guns.

Literary fiction worth reading.

Greatman I spent the weekend* reading Kate Christensen's novel The Great Man, and loving it. It's the story of one Oscar Feldman, a well-known American painter, whose only role in this book is to be the man who was loved by a variety of fascinating women. (The book actually opens with Oscar's obituary.)

The women in question are Oscar's wife, Abigail Feldman; his longtime mistress, Claire (Teddy) St. Cloud; his fellow artist and sister Maxine; his daughters (by Teddy) Ruby and Samantha; even his mistress's best friend, Lila. Each of these women relates her own story of her life with Oscar as they take turns speaking to two very different biographers of Oscar's life. It sounds complex; it's not (or it is, but in the best possible way).

I loved this book. What is totally great is that the women in this book could have been caricatures; the "artist's wronged wife with the autistic son," the "selfish mistress who kept her lover away from their own daughters," the "bitter sister." But they weren't. They were all fascinating, strong, interesting women in their own rights, and in their relations with the "great man," the reader (or at least this reader) gets the sense that they paid their moneys, they took their chances, and they lived with their decisions. Oh--and there's a secret too. An art secret that will make the reader wonder (even more) if Oscar truly was a "great man."

Just lovely. As an added benefit, this book made me feel so young. Lately I have been feeling so tired and old (in my thirties; ridiculous, I know) that to read this book about ladies in their seventies, not without their issues and aches and problems, who are still--and this is a phrase that it hurts me to type but it's really the most appropriate one--hungry for life, made me feel very, very good, and perhaps like I should buck up and try to enjoy what's left of my own youth.

I do think this is a novel that will appeal more to women, although I'd be interested to hear when men think of it too.

*I also spent the wekeend going to see the chick flick The Ugly Truth (which was awful, but we were mainly there to see Gerard Butler, so no harm, no foul) and watching the Guy Ritchie movie RockNRolla with Mr. CR (which was really pretty fantastic). Yup, I'm starting to see why I was having some problems hitting my deadlines.

Death of a legend.*

This is NOT the sort of news I go to OMG! Yahoo for:

"Director John Hughes, who helmed such legendary 80s films as 'The Breakfast Club' and 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,' died of a heart attack on Thursday, his rep confirmed to Access Hollywood. The director was 59."

This news made me very sad, as I was and am a big John Hughes fan. I loved his movies with the same uncomplicated love teenage girls everywhere harbored for Ferris Bueller (look at him in that cute nerdy chic sweater vest!) when that movie came out. Come on, he gave us one of the best lip-synched movie scenes ever:

And he gave high schoolers everywhere the gift of thinking that skipping a day every now and then was a right, not a privilege.

And, let's not forget, even in his not as hugely popular movies, he showed a genius for combining music, dialogue, and the beauty of Mary Stuart Masterson:

A moment of silence, please.

*I said legend, and I mean legend.

Menage reminder.

Didn't get much reading done last night; gave in, instead, to my mad Paul Rudd crush and watched the movie Role Models with Mr. CR. And we really, really enjoyed it. It's not for young kids, but if you're looking for awesome sarcastic humor, Paul Rudd's your man. Seann William Scott surprised us too; I wonder how those two actors get along in real life, because they play off each other nicely.

So instead I thought I would take this opportunity to remind everyone that our next Book Menage starts on Monday, July 20. Our two books? Both memoirs, this time around, but of slightly different types; Michael Perry's Population 485: Getting to Know Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time is gentler, while Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things combines memoir with travelogue and war history for a triple punch. Can't wait to see you at the Menage!

Dylan has the proper attitude.

I'm in the middle of a few books, so no coherent thoughts this morning. The only thing one can do when unfocused, is, of course, spend some quality time at YouTube.

So, even if you don't know him, you should consider watching Irish comedian Dylan Moran's talk show interview. I particularly like what he has to say about technology:

"It's just that you're filling your life with all these gadgets and shite because you're bored." (Around the 1:30 mark.)

Dylan Moran on Chat Show

And yes, I am aware of the irony of embedding* a YouTube clip to laugh at modern technology. It's still funny.

*Or I should say, trying to embed. I'm not sure why it's not working this morning, and I'm too tired to figure it out. So all I can offer is the link.

The pleasure of guilty pleasures.

Mr. CR and I typically get along pretty well. Even if we didn't, though, we'd be stuck together for life now, because we now know a very sad secret about each other: We not only are addicted to the TV series Gossip Girl, but we actually went online to Gossip Girl forums last night to see if anyone else was as disappointed with the season finale as we were. At one point, Mr. CR looked up at me and said, "I really wish we were looking at this on YOUR computer, so it wouldn't be in MY search history."*

I can't help it, and I don't care. I love Gossip Girl, and I don't care who knows it,** and I'm actually feeling a bit bereft that there won't be any new episodes until August 31. Let's run down the case for the show, shall we?

1. Beautiful, beautiful New York City. There's always a ton of great shots of the city in each episode.
2. In the first season, there's actually a pretty great love story arc between the bad boy everybody loves to hate, Chuck, and the bad girl pretty much everybody just hates, Blair. In one episode, a very nice moment between them is a perfect marriage of good character development, good film, and a great song. I started college as a film major, and I still have way too much interest in quality cinematography, well paired with a nice piece of music.
3. It's just plain nice to have a guilty pleasure.*** I don't care if it's books or TV or movies or what. You've got to love a show with a promo like the one below, I'm sorry. And I particularly love having a TV guilty pleasure, for which I have to wait for new episodes. There's something pleasurable about waiting for something in our instant gratification and everything's on the Internet all the time world, I think.


*I didn't plan it that way, I swear.

**When I broke down and told my brother, mainly because he happened to be in my house on a Monday night at 7 p.m., and I had to inform him that he either had to get out or keep completely silent so I could watch it in peace, he left. I think he was aghast at my taste. But I don't understand how he can stand American Idol, so we're even.

***Please note, I feel barely old enough to watch this show in my thirties. If I had tween or teen kids, who I would guess are supposed to be this show's target audience, I don't know that I'd let them watch it as THEIR guilty pleasure. I didn't get to watch Beverly Hills 90210 in its first run until I went to college, after all--Mom, bless her, kept a pretty close eye on my TV consumption.

Scottish triumvirate of goodness.

Scotland may not be a big country, but it certainly is responsible for a good chunk of my pop culture joy.

Take, for example, the lovely and talented James McAvoy. Let's run down his case:

1. He was in the great little movie Starter for 10, which Mr. CR and I watched this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed.* Man, the Brits know how to make a good, bittersweet, romantic comedy, and they can do it in 90 minutes (unlike most recent American rom coms, which have been clocking in at 100+ lately). Set in 1980s England, McAvoy plays a nerdy university student who actually wants to know things, and tries out for his university's quiz team (to try and get on the quiz program "University Challenge"); along the way, of course, he finds himself torn between two very different girls. In the beginning of the movie he attends the British version of a college house party--and bless him for actually looking as awkward as I always felt at those things.

2. He married a woman several years his senior, and when an idiot radio interviewer asked him if he was sorry he got married in his late twenties, when he could have been using his fame to hook up with lots of women, he nicely pointed out that he was already hooking up with the one woman he really wanted to hook up with.

3. He's 5' 7", and I love short men. Also: Scottish accent. And: asking talk show hosts for permission to say certain words:

When I get more time, I'm going to go on a mini-McAvoy bender, including the miniseries State of Play and the movie The Last King of Scotland.

Number two in the triumvirate: Martin Millar. I've talked about him before, but I have a new book of his waiting for me at the library (Yay!) and Mr. CR is reading his SF novel Thraxas right now. Mr. Millar also struggles with agoraphobia (I relate; I can go outside but I can't say I typically enjoy it) and writes an amusing blog (recent headline: "Modern world continues to disappoint").

And then, of course, let's not forget glorious number three: Ewan McGregor. Although I am smitten with McAvoy right now, McGregor will always have a place in my heart, not only for his acting in such fabo flicks as Shallow Grave and Brassed Off (another great British bittersweet chick flick), but also for his beautiful uncontrolled laugh and interview style. Although I had pledged in the mid-1990s to never again watch a Tom Hanks movie (I hate him) or support Dan Brown (I hate him more) in any way, I may actually have to break down and see Angels and Demons because McGregor is in it.

So, thank you, Scotland. If I didn't already love you for containing Edinburgh, I'd certainly love you for the three reasons above.

*You know it's a watchable chick flick when I can get Mr. CR to sit through it.

You're killing me, YouTube.

The one thing I didn't really need was to find an easier way to make YouTube work. Have you seen their "Playlists" feature? It works like this (or something like this; I don't really know all that much about it): some people who have uploaded videos and sound clips have made them into a playlist, which you can then set to "autoplay." This means, even though clips of movies and soundtracks are still uploaded in roughly ten-minute increments, you can just set them to play one right after another. There's one great soundtrack in particular that I've been playing all weekend; I'm not linking to it because I don't know how this copyright thing works, and I don't want to draw attention where it's not wanted.

And yes, I know I should buy the soundtrack. I still might so just ease up there, judgey judgersons; I'm still an old-school girl without an MP3 player so I still prefer to play music on CDs on my stereo.

In other viewing news, please note that Masterpiece Theatre is showing Wuthering Heights next Sunday night (part 2). If you missed part 1, you can view that at their website as well (damn Internet; I'm never going to get anything done this way). My favorite part of that movie so far has been watching a rather spicy love scene with Mr. CR, who then turned to me and commented that "Masterpiece Theatre seems to be a lot less boring than it used to be."

And, speaking of videos, enjoy the one below from the online show called "I'm Just Saying." I don't watch it religiously but I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Remember a while back when I shared how embarrassed I was to prefer reading men's magazines like GQ, Esquire, and Details (and how funny I found it that browsing those magazines in airport bookstores was awkward because they were next to the nudie mags?). Well, these women agree with me, and I love them for it.

Why Do Women's Magazines Suck? (Episode 46) from ImJustSayin on Vimeo.

It's the most wonderful time.

Charlie I really like Christmas. Don't tell anyone, okay? I like winter and cold and snow (well, frankly, if I could get the cold without the snow that would be better; I hate driving in snow), I like Christmas lights, I like Christmas specials. In fact, each year I make sure to get the same old Christmas specials I watch every year from the library, because I am nothing if not routine-driven and fearful of any kind of change. When I was little, we had this tree topper that was a light-up star, that I loved. Very 9.99 from Walgreen's, with little lights and colored tinsel around it. And then one year my mom decided to get a different tree topper (the star was actually falling apart): an angel who was holding two little white lights. I was so mad at the switch that I actually hated the angel, the first year we had her and every year after. When I picture trees from my childhood, they are always topped by the star.

Yup. Routine is good. So here's the shows I have to watch, or it just doesn't feel like Christmas:

The Simpsons Holiday Special: The very first one. Accept no substitutes. This is the one where Homer works as a Santa, Marge's sisters visit, and Matt Groening gets the experience of school programs exactly right. When Homer and Marge sit through Bart and Lisa's program, at one point Homer whines, "Awww, how many grades does this school have?" Perfect.

The Vicar of Dibley Chrimstas Special--The Christmas Lunch Incident: If you haven't seen the British series The Vicar of Dibley, starring Dawn French, it's about time you started. In the Christmas special, the very hilarious and very rotund vicar gets asked to three--and then four--Christmas lunches, and has to eat up to everyone's expectations at each one.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: Peanuts kids dancing and Linus--"and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men." Quite possibly my favorite 30 minutes of TV ever.

My fourth holiday tradition (well, midwinter's day tradition, actually) is re-reading Susan Cooper's high fantasy classic The Dark is Rising. More on that tomorrow.

What I learned over the weekend.

I had a great Thanksgiving weekend. I very much hope you had the same.

So what did I learn? Well, for one thing: people are crazy. Also, that Mr. CR has the correct attitude toward shopping and problem avoidance: As we watched the news story about the Wal-Mart worker getting trampled, they showed a woman with a tiny little baby in her arms pushing against a store door in a mob of people. Mr. CR opined, "You know, maybe pregnant women and people with tiny babies should stay away from that kind of scene." Should but won't, dear.

Also: When he's not busy being annoying, Colin Farrell can really act. We watched the movie In Bruges last night and really enjoyed it, although "enjoy" is the wrong word for what was, in the end, a really sad movie. But interesting. Very interesting. If you don't mind hit men protagonists and a final ten minutes with quite a bit of violence, you may want to consider this movie.

Frida I picked up the novel Frida's Bed by Slavenka Drakulic over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a novelization of the life of artist Frida Kahlo, about whom I knew nothing. (Well, that's not true; I always thought of her as the "Mustache Lady," which I certainly didn't mean unkindly, as I have my own mustache issues.) But evidently Kahlo suffered from almost constant pain, stemming from her experience with polio as a child, and then from a horrific bus accident when she was eighteen (resulting in numerous surgeries on her leg, foot, and back, just to name a few). Wow. The poor thing. She also married Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist (and he had an affair with her younger sister); and had infidelities of her own (even, notably, with Leon Trotsky). How she managed to do all that, paint, and suffer from constant pain, I can't figure out. I've got to get a biography of her. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Looking for the Book Menage? It starts next Monday, December 8!