Reasons to See “Rise of Planet of the Apes”

Reason # 1:  It introduces the audience to a hitherto unknown director:  Rupert Wyatt.  He did an outstanding job:  the cinematography, the editing, and the over-all pacing were just excellent.  Wyatt is now in self’s “Directors to Watch” list.

Reason # 2:  This is perhaps the best “Mis-begotten Scientist” movie since “Splice.”  Or since Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

Reason # 3:  This is apparently Tom Felton’s first post “Harry Potter” movie.  And, self must say, he is every bit as good playing a bad guy in this movie as he was playing Read the rest of this entry »

9/11 in Fiction

Last year, self read Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children. Great.

Last night, she started reading Don DeLillo’s Falling Man. She didn’t know Falling Man was about 9/11, but now self knows that it is.

She likes the opening pages, the first fictional account she’s read of a man (an ordinary man:  that is, not a fireman, a businessman) who survived going down from the towers.

Now, the aftermath: the man’s ex-wife and her mother are discussing him. They start with discussing the man’s son.

“The kid is fine. Who knows how the kid is? He’s fine, he’s back in school,” she said. “They reopened.”

“But you worry. I know this. You like to nourish your fear.”

“What’s next? Don’t you ask yourself? Not only next month. Years to come.”

“Nothing is next. There is no next. This was next. Eight years ago they planted a bomb in one of the towers. Nobody said what’s next. This was next. The time to be afraid is when there’s no reason to be afraid.  Too late now.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Remembering: David Lehman’s “12/19/02”


by David Lehman

published in Tin House, Vol. 17 (Fall 2003)

It seemed nothing would ever be the same
This feeling lasted for months
Not a day passed without a dozen mentions
of the devastation and the grief
Then life came back
it returned like sap to the tree
shooting new life into the veins
of parched leaves turning them green
and the old irritations came back,
they were life, too,
crowds pushing, taxis honking, the envies, the anger,
the woman who could not escape her misery
as she stood between two mirrored walls
couldn’t sleep, took a pill, heard the noises of neighbors
the dogs barking, the pigeons in the alley yipping weirdly
and the phone that rang at eight twenty with the news
of Lucy’s overdose we just saw her last Friday evening
at Jay’s on Jane Street she’d been dead for a day or so
when they found her and there was no note
the autopsy’s today the wake day after tomorrow
and then I knew that life had resumed, ordinary bitching life
had come back

* * * * *

Self’s sister died 10 years before the day; she never knew what was going to happen. That day her husband was at work early, as usual. He walked 40 blocks from his office on Wall Street before he was able to hail a cab to take him the rest of the way home.

Ying’s birthday was September 11. After that, it was strange for her: the world became strange on that day. And she died, 37 years old, seven years after, also on September 11.

9/11: Other Remembrances

This weekend was the Palo Alto Art Festival.  It takes place every August.  As we strolled around, looking at the booths, we arrived at Borders.  “60 to 70% Off!” screamed large signs.  Self suggested to hubby that we scope out the merchandise, and hubby agreed.  If there is anything guaranteed to restore hubby’s equanimity, it is the prospect of anything “70% Off.”

The last time self had been in this Borders, the sell-off sale was just beginning.  Back then, the signs advertised “30% Off!”  Amazingly, yesterday there was still a lot of merchandise on the shelves.  Hubby went straight to the military histories.  Self browsed the maps and travel books and then the blank journals.  Somehow, hubby and self ended up at the “U.S. History” section almost simultaneously.  Self didn’t expect to find anything, but then she did:  a single copy of Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Self has been exceedingly curious about this book!  She began to read the Prologue:  Falluja, Iraq, November 2004.  It is 2 a.m., and the Marines have just landed.  Mosques all over the city issue the call to the Faithful:  “The Holy War!  The Holy War!  Get up and fight for the city of mosques!”

But over the din, a new sound.  Filkins looks back, to the vacant lot where the American helicopters had landed minutes earlier, and he sees a group of marines setting up a gigantic loudspeaker.  Suddenly, the sound of AC/DC blasts over the minarets, the mosques, the calls to the Faithful:  I’m a rolling thunder, a pouring rain/ I’m comin’ on like a hurricane/ My lightning’s flashing across the sky/ You’re only young but you’re gonna die.  AC/DC and the muezzins shriek at each other in a bizarre contest, each side ramping up the volume until everything is subsumed in the noise of a terrific artillery barrage.

Filkin’s next chapter is Kabul, Afghanistan, several years earlier, in 1998.  He describes an eerie city:  at twilight, a ghost town, only the shadows of women, “floating silently in their head-to-toe burqas.  Old meat hung in the stalls.  Buildings listed in the ruins.”

He writes:  “Kabul was full of orphans . . .  woebegone children who peddled little labors and fantastic tales of grief . . .  If a war went on long enough, the men always died, and someone had to take their place.  Once I found seven boy soldiers fighting for the Northern Alliance on a hilltop in a place called Bangi.  The Taliban positions were just in view, a minefield in between.  The boys were wolflike, monosyllabic with no attention spans.  Eyes always darting.  Laughing the whole time.  Dark fuzz instead of beards.  They wore oddly matched apparel like high-top tennis shoes and and hammer-and-sickle belts, embroidered hajj caps and Russian rifles.”

Where are these boys now?  It is 2011, 13 years later.  Self can hardly dare to hope that the children Filkins wrote about have recovered:  that, for instance, their attention spans have improved, and that they now no longer speak in monosyllables.  But, more likely, they have become angry 23-year-olds, skilled in the use of weaponry.

Naturally, self had to buy Filkin’s book.  And she also happened on another by Jim Sheeler, Final Salute:  A Story of Unfinished Lives.  It’s about the men who have to deliver the news of American casualties to their families back home.  The first chapter is called “The Knock.”  It contains a list of instructions for delivering news to the NOK (“Next of Kin”).  For example:

  • Item # 3:  If the NOK does not offer entrance into the home, ask permission to enter.  It is helpful if the NOK is seated prior to delivering the news.”
  • Item # 4:  Use good judgement and do not pass gory or embarrassing details.

Self has seen a movie based on material that might possibly have been taken from this book:  It was called “The Messenger,” and starred Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.  In fact, self thinks Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in that movie.  Self decided to buy this book, as well.  Both were 50 % off.

*     *     *     *

Other Literature on 9/11:

  • The 9/11 Commission Report:  The Attack From Planning to Aftermath.  The 2004 commission report is being re-released in a new commemmorative edition, with an afterword by Philip Zelkow, the executive director of the commission.
  • And self highly recommends this book, which she has blogged about a few times:  102 Minutes:  The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Fall Movies: “Brighton Rock” Preview

Since self has seen more than a few indie films at Palo Alto’s Aquarius, this summer, she’s also managed to view a number of previews. And one of the previews that seemed very interesting was the adaptation of Graham Greene’s bleak novel, Brighton Rock.

The male lead had precisely the kind of round baby-face that shrieks KILLER! (At least, it does in movies). And the female lead, a woman named Rose (which is a name self likes exceedingly, and which she used for a main character in nascent novel that is still bumbling around in search of an ending), seemed appropriately naive. And then there’s Helen Mirren playing a determined investigator. Self can never shy away from any movie that features Helen Mirren as an investigator!

So, this evening, quite spent after a whole afternoon of wandering around the Palo Alto Art & Craft Festival (in which self noticed a number of lissome young women parading around in very looong sundresses, and looking great), self resumes browsing last Friday’s New York Times. And, what do you know, there is a review by Stephen Holden of “Brighton Rock”! And this is what he says:

A nighttime image of the sea crinkling like a black plastic garbage bag sets the bleak tone of “Brighton Rock,” Rowan Joffe’s pungent adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic crime novel from the late 1930s. If you strip away the book’s Roman Catholicism, which the movie mostly does, its story fits right into the nihilistic mood of today.

The film’s dual portraits of Pinkie (Sam Riley), a 17-year-old sociopath, and Rose (Andrea Riseborough), the slavish little mouse of a waitress who abjectly loves him, are part of this second screen adaptation of the novel; the first was a well-regarded 1947 movie directed by John Boulting and starring the young Richard Attenborough.

Pinkie and Rose are among the most pitiable couples in modern literature, and Mr. Joffe’s chilly film doesn’t sentimentalize their relationship, except for a crucial touch at the end.

And perhaps self had better stop posting here, for the next part contains a definite spoiler.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sunday, Sept. 11, at Symphony Space

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, the New York Chamber Music Festival is holding a special Sunday concert, to be hosted by B. D. Wong.

The evening will include music and poetry, all addressing the events of 9/11, and including spoken tributes by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Mario Cuomo.

This free concert, performed by musicians from the New York Philharmonic, is dedicated to the people of New York City.

Self’s good friend, composer Drew Hemenger, is one of the selected performers, and here’s how he explained the piece to be performed:

I am honored to be included in this program, which will feature the world premiere of the piano 4-hand version of Union Square, September 11, 2001, performed, by the internationally acclaimed piano duo Pascal Rogé and Ami Rogé.

Since this is a FREE event, there will be no tickets, but maximum seating capacity of Symphony Space is 750.  Lines are expected, so if you want a seat, getting there early will be essential.  It IS possible, however, to secure a reserved seat by mailing a $50 (tax-deductible) donation to the New York Chamber Music Festival and requesting one.  This cannot be done on-line.  Check must be mailed to:

New York Chamber Music Festival
c/o Elmira Darvarova
P. O. Box 231284
New York, NY 10023
You will receive a confirmation in writing, with a receipt, and your name will be on a security list for reserve advanced seating. Just to make sure, you should still come early!

Stay tuned (And self is praying for all her friends on the East Coast:  hopefully, Hurricane Irene will not do very much damage)

Chapels: Significance Of, Explored by Pico Iyer in The Utne Reader

A long, long time ago, when self was young, Mother Jones and The Utne Reader were her “go-to” magazines.  She was a little leftist, OK?  She had the idea she was staking new ground, especially after Chinese history classes where a professor talked openly of smoking weed.  New graduate of East Asian Studies from Stanford, head brimming with delightful ideas and notions, self turned up her nose at (she felt) elitist The New Yorker.

When her first book, Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, came out, Utne Reader reviewed it.

Then, almost 10 years ago, self was looking for a copy of the review.  She couldn’t locate the file.  She e-mailed someone at The Utne Reader.  They found it and mailed a copy to her.

So, last year, self began a (long overdue) subscription to The Utne Reader.  Never mind that the first issue that arrived in the mail featured a drawing of Kim Kardashian on the cover.  Inside was a gathering of articles that self still hasn’t finished reading.  This is the May/June 2011 issue we are talking about here.

On p. 77, self finds an essay called “Where Silence is Sacred.”  She sees that the author is Pico Iyer.  He and Ian Buruma are two of self’s favorite essayists.  So she begins to read.  And here are excerpts:

Giant figures are talking and strutting and singing on enormous screens above me, and someone is chattering away on the mini-screen in the cab from which I just stepped.  Nine people at this street corner are shouting into thin air, wearing wires around their chins and jabbing at the screens in their hands.  One teenager, I read recently, sent 300,000 text messages in a month —  or 10 a minute for every minute of her waking day.  There are more cell phones than people on the planet now, almost (ten mobiles for every one at the beginning of the century).  Even by the end of the past century, the average human being in a country such as ours saw as many images in a day as a Victorian inhaled in a lifetime.

And then I walk off crowded Fifth Avenue and into the capacious silence of Saint Patrick’s.  Candles are flickering here and there, intensifying my sense of all I cannot see.  Figures are on their knees, heads bowed, drawing my attention to what cannot be said.  Light is flooding through the great blue windows, and I have entered a realm where no I or realm exists.  I register everything around me:  the worn stones, the little crosses, the hymnbooks, the upturned faces; then I sit down, close my eyes —  and step out of time, into everything that stretches beyond it.

Oh, so beautiful!  Now self will stop blogging, so that she can read the rest of the essay with full concentration.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Last Thursday of August 2011

These are a few of the things you observed today:

  • The man who was handing out $10 racks of pork baby back ribs at the San Carlos Farmers Market (in front of Biancini’s supermarket) had red eyes and looked exhausted.  He was being assisted by a young boy, taller than him, with clear eyes.  Hubby asked for extra barbecue sauce (He always asks for “extra” everything, as much as he can get away with, without actually having to pay anything extra).  The man who handed over the ribs was indulgent and handed over two plastic tubs of barbecue sauce, and he still managed a smile.
  • You managed to return to the Hoover Archives.  It’s been months.  The whole summer went by too fast, you missed going there.  You saw a flyer taped to the entrance:  something about an exhibit of memorabilia from China, in the Hoover Pavilion. And you thought:  This is why you graduated from Stanford, so that you could savor the pleasure of coming to the Archives and spending whole afternoons there, reading.

When you went down to the reading room, you didn’t even have to ask to be buzzed in, the staff waved you through the stile.  And then you started reading, and taking notes, and reading, and taking notes, and suddenly you were in Manila while Japanese planes were dropping tonnage on Clark Field, and you were reading letters by American soldiers who were watching the mayhem, and right next to you, sharing the table, was an Asian woman who was very smartly dressed:  black cardigan, white tailored shirt, grey pants, black pumps.  (She’s Japanese, you thought.  I’m sure of it.  What would this woman say if she knew what you were reading?)  The pages the woman was poring over were a pale green, filled with neat columns of heavy black calligraphy.  And the two of you stayed side by side, reading, for almost two hours.  You left first.

Let’s see, what else about today?  You were standing in line at the Menlo Park Post Office.  Naturally, you were mailing out a story.  A story set in Cambodia.  You really like this story.  It’s the only one you’ve written about Ying.  Your new Droid sent out its space-y ring (not really a ring so much as an echo.  Like an outer space vibrato or something).  You answered, and it was son.  Wow, you thought:  this is truly my lucky day!  He told you he’d found an apartment.  At the very very last moment.  And of course, since school was only days away, it was —  ahem!  — kinda expensive.  Sigh.  But what can you do?  He is the sole fruit of your loins.  OK, you said.  You agreed to send some more money.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Keanu Reeves Redux

A few weeks ago, self began buying copies of The New York Times again.  (She now has a wee bit more time to luxuriate in all that dense print).

She remembers, in particular, an article in which Times movie critics Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott responded to questions from normal people —  er, readers.

One question asked was:  Is Keanu Reeves a Good Bad Actor or a Bad Good Actor?

Manohla Dargis answered, “Who cares?  He’s Keanu Reeves.”

You tell ’em, sistah!

A. O. Scott’s answer, however, was so exquisite that self had to cut it out and put it in her file cabinet (She’s possibly turning into Joan Rivers.  Did anyone catch A Piece of Work?  A fine documentary, which revealed to the world that Rivers is an obssessive filer:  that is, all of her jokes are written on index cards and stored in a gigantic, custom-made filing cabinet in her New York apartment)

Here is A. O. Scott on the topic of Keanu:

Mr. Reeves has deliberately exploited both his exquisite facial bone structure and his gift for gnomic blankness with great success in the movies . . .  but in those solemn savior roles he demonstrates not stiffness so much as professionalism.

OK, had enough of your Keanu Reeves fix for the week?  For the month?  For the year?  Or perhaps even for your entire life?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Kathleen and Her Daughter, Mercy

We go way back, Kathleen and self.

How far back?

Back to before self and her sister were married.

Kathleen met self’s Dear Departed Sister at Wharton.

Dear Departed Sister’s tragic and senseless demise sent shock waves through all her friends, for Dear Departed Sister was the dynamo of the family:  London School of Economics at 16, then Wharton School of Business.

At the time of her death, Dear Departed Sister was a vice president at Citibank.

Kathleen and self lost touch.  Then, five years ago, self began this blog.  Kathleen stumbled across it.  Now we have re-connected!

A year or so ago, Kathleen’s daughter, Mercy, landed a singing gig in San Francisco.  Of course self drove to the City to hear her.

Kathleen, who aside from being the effervescent mom of six kids, is also pursuing an advanced degree at Harvard (!!@@#  What an inspiration she is, to multi-tasking moms everywhere!), has started a group called the Old Baguio Historical Club.  Self has been wanting to blog about the club for the longest time.  Here is the link to the Club’s Facebook page.

On the club’s Facebook page, today, is a photograph of Mercy and this short bio:

Mercy Bell writes crunchy folk-pop music heavily inspired by the 60s and early 90s songwriters and more traditional folk she grew up listening to.  She moved to New York hardly knowing anyone, with a duffle bag, an air mattress, and a guitar.  She has a considerable amount more than that now, but likes to remind people that even with holes in your shoes and no friends, you can always make music.

Isn’t that a beautiful post?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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