Some Dude and Cleopatra

Last night, I saw my very first professional Shakespeare play (that I can remember).  The plan had been for Wolf and Five to graciously take Honey and me to see Antony and Cleopatra, one of ol’ Bill’s most complex tragedies. Things didn’t work out exactly the way we had planned: due to circumstances beyond our control, Wolf was unable to join us for the play, but she insisted we go without her. The show must go on, you know.

I have to admit, I was a little worried. I’m not very good at following Shakespeare when I’ve got the text in front of me. Aside from the language and idioms being way out of my sphere, I’ve seen a couple of high school productions of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and because the actors didn’t know what they were saying, I had NO CLUE what was going on. (Enter Cliff’s Notes and Wikipedia.) Continue reading Some Dude and Cleopatra

A Spy Like Me

Last night, I looked through a catalog of action movies, and I noticed something interesting. There must have been a couple hundred movies listed, and in that, I found four where there was a heroine instead of a hero. Including Barbarella.

You see,  I was trying to come up with how many movies I knew of about spies, in particular, which starred women, rather than men. I had tried to list them earlier in the day and had about for titles, out of the hundreds of spy movies out there– and I don’t mean spy movies with women in them. Shit, that’s almost all of them. I mean spy movies with a female headliner.

I remember, of course, the TV classic remake,  Avengers, but Emma Peel is part of a duo with John Steed. There was  Mr. And Mrs. Smith, but again, Angelina headlined with Brad. The French La Femme Nikita and Brigit Fonda’s remake from the early 90s, about a woman shanghaied into working as a spy against her will. Feds was about two women, but they were federal, not international (and technically, they were just students, not actual agents). And, of course, there’s always my girl, Black Widow… Oh, wait.

Where the hell are my lady spies?!?! Continue reading A Spy Like Me

“Everybody Eats” Baked Beans

Over the weekend, Honey and I went to a backyard barbeque, hosted by our friend, Belle. There were hot dogs and hamburgers available for pretty much every diet I can think of. We had our choice of all-beef, pork, turkey or tofu/veggie burgers or hotdogs with three different kinds of buns—including gluten free ones for me. (I was so touched to be remembered.) Even though no one asked it of the guests, I had decided to bring baked beans, because what is a Southern (California) barbeque without baked beans? When I went to make them, though, I had a decision to make: do I include bacon or no?

I know, I know. Everyone eats bacon right now. But that’s not really true, is it? For instance, people who keep Kosher—actual Kosher, as opposed to “Bacon counts as Kosher”—don’t. Nor do vegetarians or vegans. Nor do people who are watching their cholesterol or their salt. The question that faced me was “how inclusive do I want these beans to be?” How many people or groups do I want to tell that their presence is not important to me? How many people should know that I have no interest in breaking bread with them? Continue reading “Everybody Eats” Baked Beans

When I really, really wanted the thing.

The other day, I realized with a start that I was ready to start interacting with hoomans again. You see, I have been avoiding leaving the house pretty much since January. At first I thought it was just because I needed to recover from a very busy, albeit wonderful, December. But then the feeling never ended. In fact, it got worse! I didn’t want to leave the house. I barely saw my friends. I didn’t even want to leave the house to go get food, unless it was to bring it back to the house to eat. And I certainly didn’t want to go shopping, no matter how threadbare my work clothes were getting. Amazon Prime was my friend, and Netflix my companion. I had retired from the human race.

And then I started getting angry all the time. And then I started getting mean all the time.

And then I realized, I need a vacation. Not like, “Oh, gee, I should go somewhere.” More like, “I had better take some freaking time off NOW, before I commit some unspeakable acts– you know, the kinds that are illegal, immoral, or the greatest American sin of all: fattening.” (That last bit had actually already started happening, now that I think about it.) Continue reading When I really, really wanted the thing.

Dangers untold and hardships unnumbered 

Shortly after we moved to our current neighborhood, a lot of stressful changes started hitting me, one after the other. I mean, there were obvious ones: moving—and not just moving, but moving in with my then-boyfriend, Honey, and then the two of us establishing a home together in a neighborhood that was new to both of us. The day Honey and I each turned in our keys to our old apartments, I got laid off from my boring-but-well-paying job. In addition, I started noticing some pretty severe health issues that cropped up fairly suddenly, which ultimately led me to the gluten-free diet I’ll now be on for the rest of my life. This lead me to deeply challenge my identity as a Pretty Good Baker. And eventually I got a new job temping for a woman who made it her life’s ambition to tear me apart, piece by piece, but we needed the money to pay the rent on the apartment we had JUST signed a lease on. In short, 2013 was a challenging year for me.

Right after I landed that new job, I met one of my neighbors for the first time. She lives on the same block as us, so it’s pretty hard to avoid her space. She is one of the most caustic people I have ever had the misfortune to meet. That first time I met her, her opening words to me were so venomous and her attitude so devoid of any sort of humanity, I felt like I had been physically attacked, which is a pretty strong greeting for someone you’ve never met before. Her behavior was such a shock—how can any human being act that way toward a total stranger?!?!—that it literally ruined my whole day. I spent the whole time wondering “How dare she!” and “Why would she?” and “Who seriously worries about getting their lawn dirty? How does she deal with feral cats and raccoons, who relieve themselves wherever they damn well please? And why doesn’t she put up a stupid sign if it’s that important to her?” Continue reading Dangers untold and hardships unnumbered 

My, Oh My! Cherry Pie

I have been obsessed with pie, lately. Also, cherries. (It was cherry season last week.)

The pie thing is fairly obvious. I mean, c’mon. Pie. In addition, though, I have been listening to back-episodes of KCRW’s Good Food, and the host, Evan Kleiman, is obsessed with pie. So, I’ve been having her in my ear, talking about a LOT of pie. On top of that, two of my favorite diners carry all sorts of yummy pie. The only kind they don’t carry is gluten-free. So I’ve known for a while that I need to learn, once and for all, how to make a damn pie crust, especially since all the pre-made gf pie crusts I could find were only sold during the holiday season.

I did what I always do when I’m learning how to do something that intimidates me. I pulled out the training wheels. In this case, that meant buying a piecrust in a box. Well, a bag, really. Bob’s Red Mill to the rescue! In addition, I did a lot of research on what makes a good pie crust, and what to do and what not to do when working with it. It turns out, a lot of the Not To Dos are related to not activating the gluten in the flour, so I felt I was already ahead of the game.

Continue reading My, Oh My! Cherry Pie

On vacation

Dang! I missed posting yesterday, because I’m on vacation, and my brain was so excited about vacation, that’s all you get this week.
See you next week!

To The Greener Grass People

I remember the first time I asked someone if they loved living in Los Angeles. My favorite film professor asked me what I thought of living here. I gushed for a moment: “I love the freedom and the cine-freaks everywhere. I love the Oscars– although not how they block traffic at my apartment. But the weather is awesome! I love… just… all of it. Do you like living here, sir?”

“No,” he said flatly. He then launched into a spicy tirade about traffic, overcrowding and shallow people– and that last bit was, I have to say, rather ironic coming from him. But I digress. I was floored. For the first time ever, this man, who walked on water in my world, was flat-out wrong. He made his living working in/with the film industry, for heaven’s sake! He lived in a film-lover’s Mecca! How could he not…?

I floated back to the rest of my life, solid in the knowledge that I had gotten the bonus points everyone gets just for visiting during Office Hours. He now knew my name (OMG! He knows my name!) and knew that I loved LA. I felt like I had made some social faux-pas for saying I that last bit and hoped he chalked it up to the enamoured passion of those fresh-faced kids with the stars in their eyes. Still, priorities: I would get the credit I needed to ace the class, so I was good. The moment was set aside. For a bit.

But the thing was, this happened more than once. I mean, only the one time with my favorite professor, but over the years, I have heard so many people bitching and moaning about living here. Oh, the traffic! Oh, the people!

It became a puzzle that I’d pull out every so often. Like a Rubic’s Cube, I’d poke at it for a few minutes, twist it around, and then put it back on its shelf, because I still hadn’t solved it. Why would anyone– especially someone single– be living in a town they hated?

I have a little bit more perspective now than I did back then. I now know that sometimes Life takes us in unexpected directions, that sometimes we end up in places we’d never have imagined ourselves otherwise. There are considerations: financial, emotional, familial, communal. And sometimes, we get stuck. I’ve been stuck before; I get it. And most of all, moving is scary terrifying, not to mention a pain in the tuchas. In all of my travels, over and over, I kept hearing the phrase, “Leave my [family / friends / lover / job / favorite museum / poker group / whatever] behind? I could never do that.”

And that’s another thing! Stop saying that. Stop saying you could never. If you were violently sick everytime you ate a bagel, you could give up bagels. You might not like it, but you could do it. If someone you love to the moon and back were miserable Doing The Thing, you’d find a way for them around Doing The Thing. If you were offered a million dollars a year to live in Alaska, you’d… have to think about it really hard. (It’s cold up there, but then again, with a million dollars you could buy a lot of space heaters.) People make difficult decisions all the time, and usually, it’s because they feel they have to.

Where was I? Right. Moving. You could do it if you felt you had to.

Yes, traffic in Los Angeles sucks the big one, but it’s the same in Atlanta and Chicago, and it’s worse in San Francisco. And don’t even get me started on driving/parking in Manhattan. If you want the benefits of living in a big city, you’re gonna be dealing with traffic, just like everybody else.

Yes, there are shallow people in Los Angeles. I mean, you know, they congregate here in a much greater concentration than anywhere else that I can think of, because they all think they’re going to be the next producer/director/star. But really, every great city has its shadow side–that one bit that all the inhabitants kinda grin sheepishly with a shrug when you point it out. But the flip-side of L.A.’s shallowness is that this city is engrossed with beauty, and as such, there is beauty everywhere, both man made and natural– and often in the same person. Hello!

Maybe it’s that L.A. is an acquired taste. When you first come, all you see is cars and gray. And the Hollywood sign. It can be a little depressing. (Except for the Hollywood sign.) Actually, there’s a lot that can be crazy-making about this place. Perhaps it’s only a place you can love if you grew up here– and have no doubts that while my parents did not raise me in California, this is definitely where I Grew Up. But after a while, you can see past the gray to the mountains beyond. There’s a survivalist’s grace in the native vegetation. (YES, we have plants that grow out here natively.) And there’s a chillaxed attitude among even the most high-strung inhabitants, which eventually even the transplants adopt. (Or they leave.)

I still think the weather is gorgeous, although all the recent climate changes have me concerned for the effects we are experiencing here. (Really, more rain would be nice. If any of you have an In to get us any extra, we’d really appreciate it!) We have growing seasons all year long. Like, outdoors! You can get almost everything you need for your Thanksgiving Feast at a locals-only farmer’s market! Christmas and New Year’s too! (Except for the requisite can of cranberry sauce, because the stuff from the farmer’s market doesn’t have the ridges from the side of the can.)

And citrus trees are in everyone’s back yards, so you can have lemons, limes (helloooo, margaritas!), oranges, and grapefruits any time you want. And avocados: they’re dirt cheap here! Although I’m still hard-pressed to understand why anyone would want an avocado. Or a grapefruit. Still, if you like ’em, they’re everwhere here.

Los Angeles is a leading city when it comes to protecting the environment, because we have to be. Have you seen photos of this city in the 80s? And the pace is somehow slower for a big city. If you’re late to work because of traffic, everyone shrugs it off (because they only got in two minutes before you), and life goes on. People stroll down the street– if they’re walking at all. (It’s hard to live here without a car–not impossible, but certainly challenging.) But there’s no hustle. And I mean that in both senses of the word– pedestrians take their time AND there are very few pickpockets, because barely anyone actually uses sidewalks.

And as a cine-freak, you can see any kind of movie you want on the Big Screen. Last year, Honey and I went to see Raiders of the Lost Arc at the Egyptian Theater– a classic movie palace decked out in the gold-trimmed elegance people only dreamed of in the 30s. (Similar opportunities happen pretty much every weekend all over the city.) And there was Indy, in all his cinematic glory. It was so fascinating to see him larger than life once more. For one thing, I never realized how truly of-the-seventies that movie is!

Seriously, this town rocks. If there were one thing I’d change, you know what that would be? Oh, Genie Of The Lamp, my one wish is that the people that bitch about living here would go back to their greener grass. The world needs happy people, and I’m tired of the whiners bringing their psychic grime to my city. Besides, if they all left, that would fix our traffic issue.

 

Photo by ME!

The Bantam Weighs-In on Ultron

Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? I’m a girl. Of course, my definition of “girl” is female human somewhere between the ages of three and 203. Before that, you’re in “baby” range, and after that, well, you’re probably a little too rusty to be sassy enough to be a proper girl. (I have a similar definition for “boy,” just so you know. Equal opportunity offender, that’s me.) I’m also an American film buff. You can read that either way, really. I was both born in the US, and I appreciate US films. OMG! I LURV the summer blockbusters. Big, esplody, and corny = AWESOME!!!

As you can imagine, I was really looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron. I mean, really really. Marvel has been doing a fantastic job with the franchise! (Except for that whole no-female-super-movie thing. And now the no-Black-Widow-merchandise thing. What’s up with that???) Finally, finally! The complex characters that have evolved over generations of comic book culture are being treated with the respect they deserve.

The first Avengers was phenomenal, having been helmed by one of my favorite active directors in Hollywood today: Joss Whedon, who had a rocky start in film, shot to amazeballs while writing and directing for TV, and has steadily climbed the Hollywood ladder since then. Of course, one of my favorite elements of his body of work is his consistent track record of strong, kickass, female characters– characters, which I felt were starkly missing from Age of Ultron, also helmed by Whedon. (?!?!?)

It was shocking, really. A bit of a slap in the face. In the first Avengers movie, Black Widow, a mere-human assassin/femme fatale, has the training and know-how to go toe-to-toe with the strongest meta-humans Marvel has introduced to our world. Like, she is a serious threat to anyone who crosses her; she’s even able to outwit the wiliest of trickster gods. And in the second movie, she is fairly firmly in the role of Girlfriend. I mean, you know, a Girlfriend who has a kick like a mule and rides a motorcycle and isn’t scared of facing the end of the world. But really, her role in the movie was Girlfriend. Where was her Kickass Moment?

I left the theater feeling sad for my missing Black Widow. And quite frankly, in the entire movie, there was very little character evolution at all (male or female), which is a necessity. (You can stretch that shit out way longer in a comic book, but even in those stories, characters grow and change.) Dare I say, the most interesting character to watch evolving is the crazy robot. And, you know, James Spader is AMAZING, so his robot was amazing, but when the bad-guy-robot is more interesting than the heroes, somebody needs to check into a storytelling 101 class.

But I don’t blame Joss.

Let’s take a look at history.

1. Joss has always written strong story arcs about strong women. Even in his ensemble pieces, women are just as strong and capable as the men. They are part of the team; they have never needed to be coddled. Buffy, Willow, Tara, Anya, Cordelia, Fred, Zoe, Kaylee, Inara, River, (do I have to mention Echo?), and Black Widow from the first Avengers: even the girliest of these girls knows how to kick some serious ass and can hold her own in male-dominated professions. Joss has been promoting the strong female character since the beginning of his career! Hell, that is the cornerstone of his career. He is NOT the enemy.

2. Age of Ultron is the first Marvel movie that is, as Honey puts it, soup-to-nuts under the Disney banner. Disney has a very long, sordid history of minimizing the roles of female characters, even when the whole movie is supposed to be about her: Look at Snow White, who saves herself by cleaning house for seven smaller men, and finally getting kissed by a powerful prince. Or how about Cinderella, who saves herself from her awful life by wearing shiny shoes. (Let’s not even get into the erotic symbolism of a man sliding a shoe onto a woman’s foot, thereby turning her from a scullery maid to a princess.)

They have gotten better in recent years. Calhoun and Vanellope from Wreck-It Ralph are getting there, but even still: Calhoun is a gun-toting, testosterone-laden soldier, who  ends up marrying someone significantly shorter and more effeminate– like they wrote a male character and decided to switch the gender at the last minute. Vanellope is a tomboy and a child, with an inference that someday she’ll grow out of this phase of hers and take her place as a beautiful and proper princess. Disney seriously doesn’t know how to write kickass females.

3. The  studio system does NOT give final cut to the director. Like, ever. And let’s face it, while I don’t know the particulars of this deal, most of the time, the producer and/or the studio gets the final cut for the theatrical release. Not the director. That’s why it’s such a big deal to get a DVD or Blu-Ray of director’s cuts. Hello, does anyone remember the Bladerunner debacle?

4. It took Marvel months to tell the original Age of Ultron story. Months! Across multiple titles. And here they are, trying to jam all of it into two hours. It couldn’t all fit. But they tried…. I feel like this movie was a reverse Hobbit, which was one-and-a-half movies too long for its story. Ultron would have been a stronger story if they had taken a little bit more time to tell the tale right. You know, like how Joss would spin a yarn across a season of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, or you know, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., rather than the way Disney jam-packed so many wacky moments into Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day that they forgot to story.

5. There are rumors that Joss has a director’s cut which adds at least an hour and a half of deleted material. How much you wanna bet that’s the other half of the movie, which knits everything together and fills in some serious character gaps for, you know, all the characters?

What it comes down to is that a known control-freak studio, which consistently ruins good stories and turns every female into a simpering version of herself (Brave was Pixar, which was NOT owned by the Mouse House at the time of its production, remember), had full power to wipe its weird, four-fingered gloves all over this movie.

Now, explain to me again why we are blaming Joss?

New Acquisitions

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a gadget slut. There has always been a computer in my household, since I was 5 years old. (The Apple IIe was our first of many.) I got this passion from my dad– for my whole life, he has always collected and/or built a Thing That Does The Thing. In fact, back in the day, we used to bond over building Ham Radio gadgets. …I know: I’m a geek. I was never very good at hiding it.

Continue reading New Acquisitions