Three Movies by Joe Swanberg: Reviews Monday, Jun 30 2008 

A couple of weeks ago, I started watching Young American Bodies, an internet series about a group of Chicago friends, their lives and loves. I wrote about it here. This “episodic web series” is produced and directed by Joe Swanberg and Kris Williams. I love the series, so PJ and I started watching Swanberg’s films.

The first one we watched was also his first feature, Kissing on the Mouth (2005). Here’s a ten-minute preview I found on YouTube:

This actually gives a rather lengthy taste of the film without giving away all of the best bits or too much plot, such as there is.

The movie is about another group of friends in Chicago. In this case, Ellen, played by Kate Winterich, has started sleeping with her ex-boyfriend again, much to her friends’ displeasure. Foremost among these is her roommate Patrick, played by Swanberg. The ex, played by Kevin Pittman, wants to be more than Ellen’s secret sex partner; he wants a relationship. In the meantime, Patrick is keeping a secret of his own, which irritates Ellen, who has nothing better to do than snoop through his things until she finds out what he’s up to.

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Celebrating My Birthday Thursday, Jun 26 2008 

Today is my birthday. It’s been a good, relaxing day. It’s not a particularly big year, so I don’t feel any specific anxiety about aging or anything like that. I’m healthier than I’ve been in a while, eating well and exercising. Since my last birthday, I’ve lost 20 lbs. and I’m feeling good. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the obvious fact that I’m balding, but that’s not particularly birthday related. My relationship with PJ is the best it’s ever been, and my career is going well. All in all, I’m happy with myself, my life, and the world around me. So, having a good, relaxing day seems in order.

I woke up early and opened my presents from PJ. These included a iPod nano, which is what I had wanted most this year, a soapstone Ganesha, and the first two seasons of Sex and the City on DVD.

I spent most of the day loading music onto the iPod. Of course I just started loading stuff without really knowing what I was doing. This ultimately meant that I ended up downloading many more tracks individually than I would have had to if I had just slowed down, read the instructions, and thought about it for a second. (I have music on two different computers, and that led me to make a poor decision early on.) But now I have 150 tracks on the ipod and lots more room — about 98% — left to slowly add more music over the next few days.

Soapstone Ganesha

I’ve decided to sit my new Ganesha on my desk. Here’s a picture of it. Click on it to see a larger version. This is my third Ganesha statue (or statuette — they’re each only about 5 inches tall). I also have some postcards of Ganesha.

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Celebrating PJ’s Birthday Saturday, Jun 21 2008 

Yesterday was PJ’s birthday. To celebrate, we spent the night in Columbus. We sometimes talk about getting a hotel room in Columbus, having a nice dinner, and going out to some clubs, so we decided that this was a good time to finally do it.

We left Athens around 1 or 1:30. When we got to Columbus we went to The Book Loft, which we hadn’t been to in a long time. I was especially looking for some Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, or Dorothy L. Sayers novels, but they didn’t have any I wanted. Instead, I bought P.D. James’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and 500 Greatest-Ever Vegetarian Recipes. One of the things I especially liked about this cookbook is that all the recipes come with a picture of the final product — I think that goes a long way in convincing me to try a new recipe. I like to know what I’m shooting for!

Afterwards, we went to a coffee shop next to the Book Loft, had a drink, and browsed the local papers to look for things to do that evening. After our coffee break, we drove over to our hotel, which was just on the southern end of the Short North. We stayed at the Hampton Inn on High Street. It’s a nice hotel, but the main draw for us was its location. We wanted a hotel close enough so that we could walk to (and more importantly back from) the gay bars.

But before that, we went to dinner. We had a reservation at Basi Italia, which is just off of the Short North in the Victorian Village. We’d been there once before with friends. We both liked our dinners ok, but we ultimately decided that it wasn’t quite as wonderful as we had remembered it. Last time, we had each ordered the Basi Caesar Salad, the eggplant parmesan, and cannoli. This time, PJ had trout and I had crab ravioli for our main courses. I started with roasted mussels, and Pj had the salad again. we shared a cannoli for dessert. Everything was fine, but the real standouts of the meal were the dessert, which was so yummy, and my glass of wine, a 2006 Montellori Chianti. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that brand again. I really liked its smooth, fruity flavor. We forgot to bring our camera with us, so I don’t have any pictures to accompany this description of our dinner — yet again, all apologies to Kathee!

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Young American Bodies Thursday, Jun 19 2008 

Yesterday, my friend James emailed me a link to an article about an internet series, Young American Bodies, on www.ifc.com. He included a brief description, but I was skeptical that it would be something I’d like. Then I started watching it. Now I love it! Here’s the first episode:

The series follows a group of friends and their romantic and sexual relationships. Maggie, the woman in this first scene above, is the feckless young woman unsure of what she really wants. Ben is the everyman who is maybe too much the good guy to attract female attention. Casey has a boyfriend, Noah, but their relationship seems increasingly distant and uncommunicative. Dia is dating Kelly, and they both seem really happy and well matched.

What I like most about this series is its realism. The characters seem real to me, their activities seem real, and their issues and problems seem real. I also really like the documentary feel of this series — the hand-held camera work in particular. It creates the sense that we’re simply eavesdropping on these people’s lives, that we’re voyeurs watching bits and pieces of their conversations and activities. And this bits-and-pieces element works really well — the narrative is often elliptical, forcing us to fill in gaps and figure out what’s happened in between scenes (though the series doesn’t make it difficult to fill in these gaps).

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Out of the South: A Review Saturday, Jun 14 2008 

Last night, PJ and I watched Out of the South, a documentary about a group of gay men who were born and raised in the South and who have started new lives in Los Angeles as adults. Here’s the trailer:

I should start by admitting up front that we’re friends with the writer, producer, and director of this film, Jason Ball. Furthermore, PJ and I talked at some length with Jason about this project when he was just starting to work on it. It’s obviously a little difficult and weird to review a friend’s work, but I’ll give it a go nevertheless. I’ll try to be as objective as possible in my review, though I understand that objectivity is especially difficult in this case.

Even though Jason is a friend, I think I would have loved this documentary even if I didn’t know him. It’s fun, interesting, and insightful. The film’s goal is to explore these men’s visions of the South, which often seem romanticized, and their reasons for leaving it (whether they’ve romanticize it or not). The set up is that Jason and his partner Troy host a Sunday dinner in which they and their guests make dinner and then talk around the table. Jason then also interviews each of the guests to probe a little further into their stories. These conversations end up covering such issues as religion, rural prejudices, relationships with parents and grandparents, and the joys and difficulties of growing up in the South. They also talk a little bit about what it’s like living in LA.

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Shelter: A Review Wednesday, Jun 11 2008 

Tonight PJ and I watched Jonah Markowitz’s 2007 film Shelter, a movie about Zach, a young guy who has given up his dream of going to art school to help his sister raise her son, Cody. While hanging out with his best friend’s older brother, Shaun, Zach discovers that he’s attracted to Shaun and the two begin “seeing” one another. Ultimately, Zach has to decide whether to come out and how to deal with his sister’s inability to raise Cody. Here’s the trailer:

I love this movie. Apparently, I love movies about gay skateboarders/graffiti artists! First there was The Graffiti Artist. Then there was ‚ÄúCabalerno” from Boys Briefs 3. And now there’s Shelter. What I like about this movie is its pacing. It doesn’t try to squeeze too much into one film. Instead, it focuses on just a few central themes and then slowly, carefully unfolds its story.

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An Amazing Speech Saturday, Jun 7 2008 

I thought Senator Clinton’s concession speech today was simply amazing. It was the right mix of history, reality, idealism, and the future. I was really impressed with her ability to move her supporters in the audience from being specifically her supporters to being Democrats and then to being Obama supporters. I think he still has a lot to do to woo some of her supporters to her side and his decisions in the next month or so will do a lot to either bridge the distance between himself and some of these voters or expand the gulf. I’ll definitely vote for him in the fall regardless, but my wallet is closed until I see who he’s putting on the ticket as vice president.

But the moment that moved me the most in Senator Clinton’s speech was the one in which she included gays and lesbians.

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Master & Commander: A Review Friday, Jun 6 2008 

While PJ and I were in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, I decided to start reading Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey novels, starting with Master & Commander, of course. We were browsing the shelves of Borders, and I decided to buy a copy.

I’d been thinking about at least starting this series since reading The Jane Austen Book Club, in which a character suggests that the club read O’Brian’s novels once they’ve finished Austen’s. (The other members don’t take him up on this, by the way.) The suggestion, however, was that at least most guys who like Austen’s novels would also like O’Brian’s. I had only ever thought of these works as adventure books, not a genre that I’m particularly interested in. Since I’ve needed a little break from reading novels that rewrite Austen’s fiction from different characters’ points of view — at least until Susan Kaye’s second Captain Wentworth novel comes out — and since I clearly enjoy late Georgian/regency fiction, I thought I’d give Master & Commander a try.

I’m glad I did, because I’ve really enjoyed reading it, but I’ll start with the most difficult part about reading it: the sea jargon. As an undergraduate history major, I took a course on the literature of the sea during my junior year. I loved it, and over the course of the class we become generally familiar with the requisite terminology — the difference between “sheets” and “sails,” for example. That’s all a distant memory, and I have to say that, while I didn’t mind the sea jargon, I ended up skipping over it mentally. As long as I got the drift of what was happening, which I always thought was fairly easy to do, I didn’t let the vocabulary get in my way. In a sense, it’s kind of like reading science fiction, where there is often lots of technical jargon that isn’t really important to the enjoyment of the work. Once you think of Master & Commander in these terms, I think it’s a great read, one that combines adventure with an interest in the social aspects of this sub-set of regency British society.

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