cinema new york reviews

El Super

El Super - Blizzard of 1977

New York's bliz­zard of 1977 makes a riv­et­ing cameo appear­ance in "El Super," an indie (before the term was for­mal­ized) film about the hard adjust­ments that immi­grants make in com­ing to New York. The movie is great for many rea­sons, but the bliz­zard steals a few scenes as the main char­ac­ter — a Cuban super — walks around town. Snow is massed on cars, piled high in the streets, and pedes­tri­ans stum­ble through snow-walled side­walk canyons. Quite a scene, espe­cial­ly in the 70s, when New York looked crumbly and decrepit.Amidst the bliz­zard, the film is a melan­choly doc­u­ment of the lives of Cuban and Puer­to Rican immi­grants as they reck­on with the immen­si­ty of New York City and their dis­mal prospects for work in the bad old days of New York. The dia­logue is great, often fun­ny, just as often poignant. Good stuff. I had to resort to extreme mea­sures to find it, but you can buy it on VHS from Ama­zon. Or you can let me know, and I'll hook you up.Speaking of the bliz­zard, you may have won­dered whether Bar­ney Miller ever dealt with the bliz­zard. Of course he did. Worth watch­ing just to hear the theme song again.

music reviews san francisco

Tim Cohen / Sounds for fog & summer

My pal Greg Gard­ner is work­ing on some night moves called Secret Sev­en Records. A few months ago, he released some friend­ly sounds by Mt. Egypt, and now he's get­ting ready to drop some more home cook­ing: The Two Sides of Tim Cohen. It's a solo album by a local rap­scal­lion named Tim Cohen, for­mer­ly of Black Fic­tion, and it's a real nice col­lec­tion of fog­gy folk songs. I tend to favor the loose, spacey side of rock music, and this album is open and astral — but with rough edges that remind­ed me of Pan­da Bear minus the Beach Boys-ish har­monies. More Floyd, ear­ly Floyd. Saucer­ful of Secrets, sound­track to "More" Floyd. What­ev­er the vibe is, it's rough and qui­et and psy­che­del­ic and prob­a­bly has British roots. But I'll stop before I say more because it's bet­ter than I'm mak­ing it sound, and I'll prob­a­bly be on someone's knuck­le sand­wich list if I throw around any more crazy notions. I'll attach a song that's more Leonard Cohen, or maybe mel­low Replace­ments, than Floyd, okay?

lit reviews

Haruki Murakami / The act of passing through

I've always loved Haru­ki Muraka­mi. I share his tastes in music — Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones — and I'm eas­i­ly tak­en in by his smoky bars, rainy nights, noir pac­ing, puz­zling plot twists, and spare, reserved prose. His books are filled with cool, crisply imag­ined sit­u­a­tions that are eeri­ly lay­ered with shad­ows and mys­tery, and that shift sub­tly between real­i­ty and sur­re­al­i­ty, between the nat­ur­al and the super­nat­ur­al. Recent­ly, it was revealed that he is a run­ner, like me, when he released a book of rumi­na­tions on run­ning and its effects on his life and writ­ing. It's called What I Talk About When I Talk About Run­ning, and it is eas­i­ly in my per­son­al tops of the pops for 2008.There was some­thing about his writ­ing that struck a deep chord with me, but the nature of it was not revealed until he described a spe­cif­ic moment of "pass­ing through" dur­ing an ultra-marathon. Peo­ple talk about "hit­ting the wall," but, in my expe­ri­ence, run­ning is about hit­ting many walls, and some­how emerg­ing on the oth­er side.

… Around the 47th mile I felt like I'd passed through some­thing. That's what it felt like. Passed through is the only way I can express it. Like my body has passed clean through a stone wall. At what exact point I felt like I'd made it through, I can't recall, but sud­den­ly I noticed I was on the oth­er side. I don't know about the log­ic or the process or the method involved — I was sim­ply con­vinced of the real­i­ty that I'd passed through.

Once I read that, I start­ed to remem­ber oth­er moments in Muraka­mi books, moments that all of a sud­den seemed to spring from his run­ning expe­ri­ence. For instance, there's a scene in The Wind-Up Bird Chron­i­cle when Boku descends into a well to try to pass through its stone wall to find his miss­ing wife, Kumiko, in a room on the oth­er side of the wall:

I try to sep­a­rate from myself … I try to get out of the clum­sy flesh of mine, which is crouch­ing here in the dark. Now I am noth­ing but a vacant house, an aban­doned well. I try to go out­side, to change vehi­cles, to leap from one real­i­ty to anoth­er that moves at a dif­fer­ent speed. Now a sin­gle wall is the only thing sep­a­rat­ing me from the strange room. I ought to be able to pass through that wall. I should be able to do that with my own strength and with the pow­er of deep dark­ness in here.

Lat­er, he breaks through.

All of a sud­den, I was asleep, as if I had been walk­ing down a cor­ri­dor with noth­ing par­tic­u­lar on my mind when, with­out warn­ing, I was dragged into an unknown room. How long this thick, mud­like stu­por enveloped me I had no idea. It couldn't have been very long. It might have been just a moment. But when some kind of pres­ence brought me back to con­scious­ness, I knew I was in anoth­er darkness.

That sense of being changed "with­out warn­ing" is so rec­og­niz­able; I feel like I've been on long runs in which I'm trans­port­ed sud­den­ly, through time, and dropped some­where else. And the part about "anoth­er dark­ness" remind­ed me of After Dark, when Eri Asai has some­how passed from an actu­al bed to a bed on a TV screen that faces the actu­al bed, a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion in which the rules were some­how total­ly different: 

In the bed in that oth­er world, Eri con­tin­ues sleep­ing sound­ly, as she did when she was in this room — just as beau­ti­ful­ly, just as deeply. She is not aware that some hand has car­ried her (or per­haps we should say her body) into the TV screen. The blind­ing glare of the ceiling's flu­o­res­cent lamps does not pen­e­trate to the bot­tom of the sea trench in which she sleeps.

All of these make more sense now. It's all about break­ing through, about tran­scend­ing some­thing that is both phys­i­cal and men­tal, even spir­i­tu­al. I also loved Murakami's run­ning mantra: "I'm not a human. I'm a piece of machin­ery. I don't need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead." It remind­ed me of my own mantra, which is the final verse of John­ny Cash's Fol­som Prison Blues:

Well, if they freed me from this prison,If that rail­road train was mine,I bet I'd move it on a little,Farther down the line,Far from Fol­som Prison,That's where I want to stay,And I'd let that lone­some whistle,Blow my Blues away. 

Run­ning: It's all about pain, machines, escape, and break­ing through walls.

food reviews san francisco

Check, Please / Behind the music (and wine)

I always meant to write about my close encounter with pub­lic tele­vi­sion fame — the only kind that's worth pur­su­ing, if you ask me — but some­how I got way­laid by sum­mer­time, its var­i­ous par­ties and good ol times. But I've got a sec, so I should just spill it before the good times take hold again.

Check Please - Sitting at the tableTime spent comb­ing hair: zero min­utes. Time spent iron­ing shirt: zero min­utes. Num­ber of heart attacks my mom would have if she saw this: count­less.

Check, Please! Bay Area is a restau­rant review show on our local pub­lic tele­vi­sion sta­tion, KQED Chan­nel 9 (what!). On each show, three Bay Area res­i­dents sit around a table and dis­cuss their thoughts and feel­ings about three local restau­rants. At the begin­ning of the process, each per­son gets to choose a favorite1 restau­rant; then, each par­tic­i­pant goes to all three restau­rants; THEN, every­one assem­bles at KQED stu­dios to dis­cuss them in front real TV cameras.

So, yeah, it all started back in June.

Mara and I were at Pauline's Piz­za, eat­ing din­ner with some friends when we saw Leslie Sbroc­co, the host of Check Please. We're Check Please super­fans, so we couldn't resist the urge to approach Leslie and creep her out with our exten­sive knowl­edge of the show. Lat­er, Leslie and her din­ing com­pan­ion (who turned out the be the pro­duc­er) stopped by our table and asked us to apply to be on the show. Some­how, I was the one who applied, even though Mara would have been 10 times bet­ter. Some­how, I was accept­ed, for rea­sons that are still unclear to me.As I men­tioned in the foot­note, I chose a taco truck as my favorite restau­rant, and this was a slight — SLIGHT — depar­ture from those cho­sen by my cohorts — a fan­cy Noe Val­ley bistro, and a clas­sic Finan­cial Dis­trict steak­house. There­fore, my entire prepa­ra­tion for the show involve craft­ing argu­ments about why they need­ed to give the taco truck anoth­er try. "The ecol­o­gy of taque­rias is rich and diverse," I would instruct them; "each one has its own spe­cial­ty, a thing it does bet­ter than all oth­ers, and it takes time to ful­ly explore this rich­ness." (Any­way, you can read more of this BS in my review on KQED's website).Turns out, my cohorts loved the taco truck. I was speech­less, real­ly. I had noth­ing pro­duc­tive to say to peo­ple who agreed with me. It could have been the wine. (IT'S REAL, by the way). And I drank too much of it, too much for a non-wine drinker, too much for 11am on a week­day (when we taped it), too much to gen­er­ate extem­po­ra­ne­ous bon mots wor­thy of PUBLIC TV. If you're curi­ous about what the blo­gos­phere had to say about my taco truck rec­om­men­da­tion, you need only get a load of this review from a guy named Ely, also from KQED's site: 

Dont eat from El Tonayense, I had a beef bur­ri­to that made me sick! The meat was too oily and mix in with fat­ty fat peices. The bur­ri­to was tiny and the ingri­di­ents had lit­tle favor.

My bad.1 Check Please kin­da repeat­ed­ly implies that each restau­rant reviewed is the "favorite" restau­rant of the per­son who sug­gest­ed it. I chose a taco truck.

reviews tip

Essential information / Mixing drinks, tying knots, arguing

I like to tell myself that I don't read stuff like this, but Esquire's got a pret­ty excel­lent list of "75 skills every man should mas­ter".

Leif Parsons - Jump the cue ball
33. Hit a jump shot in pool. It's not some­thing you use a lot, but when you hit a jump shot, it marks you as a play­er and briefly impress­es women. Make the angle of your cue steep­er, aim for the bot­tom­most frac­tion of the ball, and dri­ve the cue smooth­ly six inch­es past the con­tact point, mak­ing steady, down­ward con­tact with the felt. Illus­tra­tion: Leif Par­sons.

There are some good, less pre­dictable skills: 5. Name a book that mat­ters; 21. Argue with a Euro­pean with­out get­ting xeno­pho­bic or insult­ing soc­cer; 52. Step into a job no one wants to do.And then there are the pre­dictable things:

Drink­ing-relat­ed stuff: 17. Make one drink, in large batch­es, very well; 24. Know his poi­son, with­out stand­ing there, pon­der­ing like a dope; 32. Describe a glass of wine in one sen­tence with­out using the terms nut­ty, fruity, oaky, fin­ish, or kick.Outdoors-related stuff: 14. Chop down a tree; 26. Cast a fish­ing rod with­out shriek­ing or sigh­ing or oth­er­wise admit­ting defeat; 51. Build a camp­fire; 55. Point to the north at any time; 68. Find his way out of the woods if lost; 69. Tie a knot; 74. Know some birds.Sports-related stuff: 4. Score a base­ball game; 11. Swim three dif­fer­ent strokes; 65–67. Throw a base­ball over-hand with some snap. Throw a foot­ball with a tight spi­ral. Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably.

Social context?

I would think that Esquire has made lists like this in the past, and if so I think it would be inter­est­ing to com­pare lists across time. For instance, there's noth­ing explic­it­ly sports-knowl­edge-relat­ed or steak-knowl­edge-relat­ed — "Have a favorite team," "Know the dif­fer­ence between a New York Strip and a T‑Bone" or some­thing like that — all of which seem like they'd be require­ments in the past. It would also be inter­est­ing to know if lists like this are recent devel­op­ments. Would the Esquire mag­a­zine of Nor­man Mailer's era craft a list like this? Prob­a­bly not, actu­al­ly. Or, if they did craft lists, they'd be one-item lists: "1. F*** lists."Via Buz­zFeed.

ixd lit reviews urban

Research / East Baltimore police narratives

Last week I picked up a book called Cop in the Hood by a grad stu­dent turned cop (turned aca­d­e­m­ic) named Peter Moskos. He's a law pro­fes­sor now [UPDATE: Oops. He's actu­al­ly an "assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Law, Police Sci­ence, and Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Admin­is­tra­tion." My bad], but he spent a year polic­ing East Bal­ti­more dur­ing his PhD work and wrote a part soci­o­log­i­cal analy­sis, part police pro­ce­dur­al about his expe­ri­ence. If The Wire had a lit­er­ary ana­log, this would be it, not only because it takes place in East Bal­ti­more, but because it presents a moral­ly com­plex view of the rela­tion­ship between law enforce­ment and the cit­i­zen­ry with whom they inter­act (most­ly poor peo­ple in des­per­ate cir­cum­stances). It also adds aca­d­e­m­ic under­pin­nings and a tru­ly excel­lent set of foot­notes that pro­vide avenues to a vari­ety of inter­est­ing sources, one of which led me to one of my all-time favorite New York­er arti­cles, a 1998 install­ment of the Cop Diary called "The Word on the Street" about the lan­guage of NYC cops. The author, the pseu­do­ny­mous Mar­cus Laf­fey (actu­al name: Edward Con­lon) recent­ly wrote a mem­oir called Blue Blood, which is going on the list for sure.I real­ly appre­ci­at­ed his dis­cus­sion of research meth­ods because it puts in high relief some of the chal­lenges that any researcher (e.g., one who is try­ing to under­stand how peo­ple use high-tech tools) inter­acts with their inter­view sub­jects. So much of it is very un-objec­tive, and Moskos address­es his skep­tics ear­ly on:

Some will crit­i­cize my unsci­en­tif­ic meth­ods. I have no real defense. Every­thing is true, but this book suf­fers from all the flaws inher­ent in ethno­graph­ic work … Being on the inside, I made lit­tle attempt to be objec­tive. I did not pick, much less ran­dom­ly pick, my research site or research sub­jects. I researched where I was assigned. To those I policed, I tried to be fair. But my empa­thy was to my fel­low offi­cers. Those near­est to me became my friends and research sub­jects. My the­o­ries emerged from expe­ri­ence, knowl­edge, and under­stand­ing. In aca­d­e­m­ic jar­gon, my work could be called "front-and-back­stage, mul­ti­sit­ed, par­tic­i­pant-obser­va­tion research using ground­ed the­o­ry root­ed in sym­bol­ic inter­ac­tion­ism from a dra­matur­gi­cal perspective.

You can read more in an excerpt here [PDF], and he's got a blog that dis­cuss­es media cov­er­age of the book here.

food reviews san francisco

I live inside your television

Doug LeMoine - Check Please - Looking at the cameraYou may rec­og­nize me from some­where, some­where like YOUR TIVO.

Pret­ty much the only thing the direc­tor told me: "Don't look at the cam­era." Dang. More on my explo­sion onto the local pub­lic tele­vi­sion restau­rant-review­ing stage some­time soon; until then you can check out my episode of the Check Please Bay Area here.

inside art reviews visual

Foto / Modernity in Central Europe

Foto - Modernity in Central Europe

When I was in Wash­ing­ton DC last month, I saw an incred­i­ble show at the Nation­al Gallery called Foto: Moder­ni­ty in Cen­tral Europe 1918–1945. As you may have guessed by the title, the show is pho­tog­ra­phy-ori­ent­ed, but it's more than that: It's a sto­ry about pho­tog­ra­phy craft, and the way that Euro­pean pho­tog­ra­phers bent, broke and oth­er­wise manip­u­lat­ed pho­tos to express the social, polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al frag­men­ta­tion (and chaos) in the wake of the First World War. Most of the artists were unknown to me; they're all intro­duced and dis­cussed in detail in the excel­lent exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue. It opens at the Guggen­heim New York in October.

Birth of a robotThis is a pho­tomon­tage by a Pol­ish artist named Janusz Maria Brzes­ki. It's called Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry Idyll, but the name of the series is even bet­ter: A Robot Is Born. Pho­to: Nation­al Gallery of Art.
Jindrich Styrsky - SouvenirAnoth­er pho­tomon­tage, this one by Jin­drich Strysky, a Czech artist. Pho­to: Nation­al Gallery of Art


basketball kansas basketball reviews tip

March Madness / My bracket, with explanations

UPDATE 1: A cou­ple of changed picks; UPDATE 2: Some eerie resem­blances my brack­et and those of SI writ­ers; UPDATE 4: Sur­vey­ing the car­nage: Thoughts after the first two roundsHere's the brack­et that I made on the Mon­day after the seed­ings were announced.

my 2007 bracket - ideal version

UPDATE: Since Mon­day, I've been spend­ing a lot of time read­ing up on the teams I don't know/care about — in and its Tour­ney Blog, sta­tis­ti­cal ana­lyst Ken Pomeroy's blog, the NYT Brack­et blog, and the ever-unfriend­ly which must hide a lot of its use­ful stuff behind its sub­scrip­tion ser­vice, Insid­er. In any case, the more you read about the first round match-ups, the more con­fus­ing it all gets. I've seen many of the teams play at some point dur­ing the sea­son, but I'm total­ly in the dark on pret­ty much any team from the Pac 10 (even though I live in Cal­i­for­nia, I just real­ly can't even force myself to care about it) and almost all of the mid-majors. One brack­et change came out of this — I can't believe I'm say­ing this, but Duke seems less like­ly to get upset by VCU. Duke has been crit­i­cized a lot for being soft, slop­py, and gen­er­al­ly unin­spired, and they're com­ing off a sting­ing loss in the ACC Tour­na­ment. How could they not be hun­gry? They've got a bunch of tal­ent­ed play­ers, and it just seems real­ly unlike­ly that they won't be able to pull off a win against a VCU team that has only played one team in the tour­na­ment (Old Domin­ion). While I've only changed one out­come, my read­ing did pro­duce many doubts in my brack­et, which I detail below. (It also caused me to cre­ate three more ver­sions of my brack­et to account for the dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios that the pun­dits high­light­ed — What if Ore­gon can't play defense? What if Oden explodes on the scene and dom­i­nates every­one? What if North Car­oli­na is as good as they appear to be in 3‑minute stretches?)

Some second thoughts

UPDATE 2: Inci­den­tal­ly, SI writer Grant Wahl's brack­et is almost exact­ly the same as mine. (Actu­al­ly, same with Seth Davis). Same Final Four; same final game; same out­come. The only big dif­fer­ences are that he has Texas beat­ing UNC (UPDATE 3: Now, so do I), and Creighton beat­ing Mem­phis, where­as I have both UNC and Mem­phis get­ting knocked out in the next round. (I also have more first-round upsets than him … Oral Roberts over Wash­ing­ton State, etc).UPDATE 4 (in the week fol­low­ing the first two rounds): After two straight years in which my brack­et burst into flames dur­ing the first week­end, I was just hap­py to emerge with 15 out of 16 teams still alive. Most­ly, I got burned by my late changes — Texas beat­ing UNC and Duke beat­ing VCU — and by the fash­ion­able upsets that I stub­born­ly decid­ed to stick with — Geor­gia Tech over UNLV, Creighton over Neva­da, and Oral Roberts over Wash­ing­ton State, each of which found their own ago­niz­ing way of dri­ving a spear through my heart. Crxp.As usu­al, there were a cou­ple of teams that I was total­ly, total­ly wrong about: (1) UNLV. Obvi­ous­ly, these guys can play. I dis­count­ed them because (a) who did they beat? and (b) the coach's son seemed to play an inor­di­nate­ly impor­tant role. Both seemed like big-time red flags. I ignored the fact that they were expe­ri­enced, and that they were clear­ly pissed off by their #7 seed. Who would have thought that the team that rose to the occa­sion would be com­posed of hard-nosed guys led by jour­ney­man coach Lon Kruger (UNLV), and not com­posed of McDonald's All-Amer­i­cans and led by the saint­ed Coach K? Seemed unlike­ly before it hap­pened, but oh how sweet it is in ret­ro­spect. (2) Texas. Dur­ing the two Kansas games, they were dan­ger­ous­ly weak at guard. Both games would like­ly have been blow-outs if Durant hadn't total­ly gone off in the first 15 min­utes of each. Abrams is a ter­ri­ble ball-han­dler who needs mul­ti­ple screens to get his shot going, and Augustin is com­plete­ly dom­i­nant one moment and out-of-con­trol the next. USC forced these guys to play a big­ger role by tak­ing away Durant's drib­ble; good call, Tim Floyd. (Didn't real­ly think I'd be say­ing those words any­time after 2002). On the oth­er bench, Rick Barnes made no dis­cernible adjust­ments. Again, not that sur­pris­ing, in retrospect.The next round looks most­ly bor­ing to me, though I guess half the games could be excit­ing — UNC-USC, if USC is able to hang on while UNC goes on its peri­od­ic runs, A&M‑Memphis should dis­play some good offen­sive fire­pow­er (unlike Pitt-UCLA, which almost cer­tain­ly will be a grind-it-out snore-fest), and KU-SIU which could be excit­ing if KU has a hard time run­ning its offense against the defense-mind­ed Salukis. Let's hope that it's not excit­ing in this way.

law & order reviews

Stupid BCS / Viva Boise State!

Ques­tion: What do you call it when the rich­est seg­ment gets to deter­mine all the rules, and they do so in a way that pre­vents mem­bers of the less rich from access­ing the advan­tages avail­able to the rich? A sham? A trav­es­ty? Un-Amer­i­can? Ladies and gen­tle­men, I give you the BCS.After Monday's barn-burn­ing over­time take­down of Okla­homa [watch the leg­endary fourth-and-18 hook-and-lat­er­al one more time], Boise State pro­vides a slew of new rea­sons why a more egal­i­tar­i­an post-sea­son sched­ule makes sense: (1) Obvi­ous Cin­derel­la pos­si­bil­i­ties. No mat­ter how under-rat­ed they may be at a cer­tain point in time, a team from a "pow­er" con­fer­ence could nev­er tru­ly be a Cin­derel­la. Who wouldn't want to watch Boise State get a chance to go toe-to-toe with Ohio State? (2) Gun-sling­ing play-call­ing. Even if Steve Spurri­er would have run the hook-and-lat­er­al on 4th and 18, he would have nev­er called the (mod­i­fied) Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty when going for 2 with the game on the line. Out­side of Spurrier's occa­sion­al chi­canery, you just don't see that kind of stuff, ever, except by inspired teams with noth­ing to lose; (3) The chance to see a mid-major admin­is­ter a crush­ing beat­down to Notre Dame. Enough said.This much is clear: Col­lege foot­ball is more like pro­fes­sion­al box­ing than like col­lege bas­ket­ball. Many com­peti­tors, many belts, much con­fu­sion as to who is cham­pi­on. For both, impar­tial reg­u­la­tion would be bet­ter for every­one *except* the peo­ple who cur­rent­ly run the sanc­tion­ing bod­ies — the WBA, the WBC, the IBF, and the BCS.