Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

In a way, it’s like he’s been dead for a long time. Isn’t that what a recluse wants? For the world to act as if he’s dead? But he wasn’t dead until now. And I already miss his crazy ass.

Like nearly every American teenager, I first became familiar with J.D. Salinger when I read “Catcher in the Rye” in 9th grade English class. And like many American teenagers, it absolutely spoke to me. It was even more profound considering that most of the other kids in my class were completely unaffected. Some were bored by the book. Some just thought Holden was a jerk. Some probably didn’t actually read it at all. I was in private school and many of the characters in the book that Holden called “phonies” reminded me of the people I begrudgingly spent every day with. I wrote two papers about the book. One was a typical literary analysis and one was a “diary entry” written in Holden’s voice. The latter came to me very easily. I got an A+ on both papers. I felt that I had never completely understood a book better than I understood that one. And with that, “Catcher in the Rye” became my favorite book.

What really knocks me out is a book, when you’re all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

Later, I voluntarily took an AP English class over the summer which was all about Salinger. We read every book that he’d published that summer. I had never had so much fun in school. “Nine Stories” blew me away even more profoundly than “Catcher”. I was so moved by “For Esme with Love and Squalor”. I don’t think a book had ever made me cry before. We also learned a bit about J.D. Salinger, the man. He was crazy. He was a recluse. His family hated him. He’d been accused of inappropriate relationships with young girls. It was fairly obvious that everything he wrote was at least semi-autobiographical. This did not bode well for his mental state. But I fully understood how one could let the world get to him. And that’s what had happened. He was better off in hiding.

I re-read “Catcher in the Rye” and “Nine Stories” yearly. In college, I once spent an entire Saturday in the downtown Tacoma library (remember libraries, kids?) seeking out his uncollected works: short stories which had been published in literary journals and magazines and then forgotten. I exhaustively searched through the microfiche and spent dime after dime photocopying everything I could. I didn’t find everything, but what I did manage to collect felt like a treasure. I later devoured those stories and thought this was an author who was incapable of writing a bad sentence.

He does have that vault full of unpublished works. He has said that what’s in there is vaulted for a reason. He thinks it’s terrible and he never wants the world to see it. I don’t know who is in charge of his estate or what will become of those stories now. Part of me wants to read them, of course. But considering the quality of what he allowed to be published, I also trust his judgment. And I never want to read a Salinger story that I don’t love.

Speaking of which, it’s been a while since I re-read “Nine Stories”.

NFT Radar: Blue Dog Kitchen

Living in the UD, I sometimes miss the old IHOP and pancakes at my beck and call. But then I remember the Blue Dog Kitchen and I remember just how much I was slumming it with those nasty gut-bombs and sugary syrups. Blue Dog does “build-your-own pancakes” with an extensive array of bases (like buttermilk, oat bran, blue cornmeal, and poppy seed) and toppings. Fruits, nuts, chocolate chips and syrups combined any way your little heart desires. They’re even available wheat-free for more delicate digestive systems. If pancakes aren’t your thing, they’ll also do an omelet for you, and throw in a piece of fresh bread for good measure. Cafe D’arte supplies the coffee but the Dogs brew their own chai in 10 different varieties, including ginger spice and lavender. If you prefer lunch, they’ve got that too: Deli-style sandwiches in 20 different varieties. The dog may be blue, but your stomach won’t be. The only downside to this place is that the pancake service is limited to the mornings. But I suppose an adult has to adhere to a meal schedule sometime.


5247 University Way NE 98105
206-632-5132
www.bluedogkitchen.com

X-posted from Not For Tourists.

Plate-O-Chick

I know that Alex Cox has been wanting to make a sequel to “Repo Man” for years and, due to legal rights with the original studio, no longer owns his own characters from that movie. That’s why he penned a comic book with “parallel universe” characters to tell the story of what happened to Otto after the original film. But that still didn’t scratch his sequel itch, so he came up with the idea for “Repo Chick”. Now, I’m not opposed to the idea of another “Repo” story, nor am I against the gender swap. The title, however, is just terrible. I get that Cox wants fans to recall the original without being able to reference it specifically. But there has to be a better way.

And now there’s a trailer:

I’m not really sure what to think. The story and unusual use of green screen (making it look like an Aqua video) are weird and campy enough that I’d probably see it Cox or no Cox. I also approve of the idea of Rosanna Arquette in the Harry Dean Stanton mentor role. But it’s hard not to be skeptical about the finished product. Since he was never able to make the sequel he wanted, this sounds more like a consolation prize than a dream realized. Hopefully the finished product won’t come off that way. And given the fact that he’s behind one of my all time favorite movies, in addition to my affinity for the original “Repo Man”, I have no choice but to give “Repo Chick” a shot. We shall see…

NFT Radar: The Counter

So it’s not a mom and pop burger joint. It started in California with franchises springing up in some unlikely places across the country (and the world). And maybe I’m just falling for the glamor of an evil empire on the rise. But when a place boasts 312,120 different possible burger combinations (any mathematicians want to contest this figure?) how can you not? Because of the insane array of choices, their Build-Your-Own-Burger forms can be a little overwhelming. I find it’s best to start with a sauce and go from there. You can be simple as you please (beef burger, American cheese, lettuce, regular bun) or highly experimental (turkey burger, soft ripened brie, hard boiled eggs, ginger soy glaze, dried cranberries on English muffin). It’s all up to you. They just provide the high-quality ingredients. Especially impressive are their house-made veggie patties, an ingenious combination of grains and veggies mashed together and fried to a golden brown. Don’t miss their Wednesday happy hour, which pairs 4 sliders with 4 microbrew samples for $4. Save room for a milkshake, which can also be combined however you please. It doesn’t get any more “have it your way” than this.


4609 14th Ave NW 98107
206-706-0311
www.thecounterburger.com

X-posted from Not For Tourists.

Review: “UB40 – Food For Thought”

2009
Unrated
81 minutes

***

Apart from actual taste, there is nothing more subjective than musical taste. One man’s auditory honey is the most annoying sound in the world to someone else. In the mid-eighties, I thought I hated UB40. I cringed whenever they came on the radio. That said, sometimes a band, known primarily for their album of covers, can surprise you.

UB40 formed in Birmingham, England in 1978. Named after a document issued to people filing for unemployment benefits, they were among a number of pasty white Brit musicians getting into reggae at that point. They were drawn to the political messages, feeling a kinship to the problems of unemployment in Jamaica and, yes, they were probably also smoking some ganja.

Shot on a hot summer night in Cologne, Germany in 1981, “Food For Thought” captures the early days of the band, just after the release of their second album. Like their first record, it was a hit in their native country. They were riding high on success (and other things), spreading their appropriation of the reggae sound to guilty white folks across Europe. They weren’t exactly the Clash, but they weren’t incomparable. They wouldn’t be noticed by the Yanks for another 3 years. And sadly their original work would never chart in the U.S.

For that reason, it’s hard for a Yank like me to watch “Food For Thought” without that American stigma attached to it. The “Sliver” soundtrack doesn’t even exist yet in this snapshot of UB40’s career, but it was always in the back of my mind as I watched the Campbell brothers sweat and bop on stage among a bevy of trumpet players and a real live, bona fide Jamaican called Astro. It doesn’t help that the audience consists of mostly white, mustachioed Germans with dubious hair. These people take songs like “The Earth Dies Screaming” very seriously. They also recall the inevitable future: Republicans blasting “Red Red Wine” from their Ferraris.

But in 1981, it’s all about the politics and the Sinsemilla. Back then there was nothing ironic about a ginger man in sunglasses and a tucked-in baseball jersey, playing sax under lyrics like “the poor can scream but no-one hears/the concrete jungle sings the blues”. “Don’t Let it Pass You By” is about how life is short and there’s nothing beyond so you might as well get high. In “Burden of Shame” the band apologizes to South Africa for being British.

UB40’s origins won’t be news to pre-existing longtime fans. Thus, this DVD will be a huge treat for them: An earnest and flawless performance of the band’s first two records. Bleeding hearts like me, without the aid of a certain herb, may still be bored by the droning ska rhythms, but they have to respect the band’s message. The only audiences I can imagine being truly disappointed by this performance are those cheesy dudes who only ever owned “Labour of Love”. They’ll be waiting for that one song that, thankfully, will never be played.

 

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Hotter With a Beard: Jon Hamm Edition

Hamm’s hairy potential is hinted at on “Mad Men” with his occasional five o’clock shadow and glorious chest hair. But here is Hamm’s face in full bearded glory.

Fantastic. I’m also a fan of the sexy crow’s feet. This is what a man looks like, people.

NFT Radar: Chiang’s Gourmet

It certainly looks sketchy from the outside and its proximity to the dodginess of Lake City Way certainly doesn’t help. But if you can put look beyond appearances and venture inside, you most certainly won’t regret it. With three different menus (American, Chinese, and Vegetarian) it’s difficult not to find something you like. The house-made noodles are the perfect combination of chewy and salty and come in a number of different dishes. The vegetarian sweet and sour ribs are a saucy bit of fried heaven. If you’re feeling adventurous, order something off one of the colorful signs by the register. Those are the owner’s suggestions and are sure to be amazing. Don’t miss the weekend brunch with eggy pastry delights and some dim-sum type items. The steamed bun selection (apart from the lackluster vegetarian bun) is outstanding. However, be prepared for spotty service. Depending on how busy they are, (and often, it’s VERY) you may wait a long time for your food. Fortunately, there’s always take-out. Trust me, it’s worth the hassle. This is some of the most authentic (and delicious) Chinese food you will find in Seattle. Just ask the authentic Chinese families who crowd the dining room!


7845 Lake City Way NE 98115
206-527-8888
www.chiangesgourmet.com

X-posted from Not For Tourists.

Film Threat Review: The Book of Eli

2010
Rated R
118 minutes

**

In the new film by the Hughes Brothers (“From Hell”), it’s 30 years post-apocalypse and things are hella not cool, you guys. The world is a scorched junkyard full of pockmarked and be-goggled road warriors ready to rape, pillage and eat you. Apparently, this is what the world looks like without God. Fortunately, there’s also this dude named Eli (Denzel Washington) who heard a voice in his head giving him a mission. He’s got a keen sense of his senses and therefore has no trouble taking out any number of bad guys all by his lonesome and in record time. Of course, he’d rather not if he can help it. All’s he wants to do is get this very special book “west” like the nice voice asked him to. But wouldn’t you know it, there’s another man with designs on the book and he isn’t going to make it easy for Eli.

The first 30 minutes of “The Book of Eli” set the scene. You’ve got your standard decayed America, full of billboard ruins and skeletons in stalled cars. Our titular protagonist wanders around killing cats for their cosmetic properties and scoring precious commodities like shoes and wet wipes off of dead bodies. He camps in abandoned houses and makes friends with rats to break up the monotony. Though, as bad as things are, he still has a working iPod. He is an old man by modern standards. One of the few left who remembers how “things were before.” Perhaps it’s because he’s so old that it’s taken him 30 years to walk 3000 miles.

Eventually, he stumbles across a lawless frontier town and stops to replenish supplies. Unfortunately, he chooses the wrong lawless frontier town in which to make a pit stop. Run by a sort of Future Al Swearengen named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), it makes Deadwood look like a country club. Carnegie has been desperately searching for the very book that Eli carries. It’s “a book of power” that he “grew up with” and provides “the right words for our faith.” (Can you guess what this book might be? Hint: It’s not “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.) All of the copies, save one, were burned after the war because some determined the book to be the cause of this whole mess (go figure). Carnegie says he can use the book as a weapon to control the weak-minded. Carnegie is supposed to be the bad guy, but he sure says a lot of things that make sense.

When Carnegie discovers that Eli carries the book in question, he sets his team of cronies (led by an underused Ray Stevenson) on him. Choosing to join Eli is Carnegie’s stepdaughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), a prostitute who also happens to be the most beautiful girl in the world. How she maintains such a flawless complexion in a time without lotion is a genetic marvel. If you ask me, her beauty secrets are the real Holy Grail. But instead they insist on focusing on the book.

The whole movie feels a bit like a squandered opportunity. We didn’t really need another post-apocalyptic story, but if you’re going to do it, and get Gary Oldman to play the bad guy, you could try and be a little more creative. Instead, it’s all pretty cookie-cutter from the washed-out tones to the wardrobe to the passages of scripture that Eli spouts before kicking ass. I suppose the “twist” ending is supposed to make up for the cliché, but instead it seems silly and rather unresolved. I also left the theatre feeling a little conned, as though a colleague invited me to a “party” that actually ended up being a bible study (with no beer at all!). I’m not sure what, exactly, the Hughes Brothers wanted to accomplish with “The Book of Eli”, but I’m pretty sure Mel Gibson and Kirk Cameron would approve.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Film Threat Review: Youth in Revolt

2009
Rated R
90 minutes

****

On the surface, it might seem like just another Awkward Michael Cera Comedy. It’s true that element is present, but it’s also so much more. “Youth in Revolt” is the story of a precocious Bay Area teenager named Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) whose affinity for Frank Sinatra and Italian cinema only briefly distracts from his raging hormones. When his mother’s redneck boyfriend (Zack Galifianakis) gets in trouble with some naval officers, they decide to lay low in a camping trailer park in Ukiah. It’s there that Nick meets and falls head-over-heels for Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), an undeniable beauty and his intellectual equal. However, several elements keep him from being with his beloved including Sheeni’s religious parents and an over-achiever Adonis of a boyfriend named Trent. Nick creates id-like alter ego, Francois Dillinger, in order to undertake extreme measures necessary to get the job done, including blowing up part of Berkeley so that he will be sent to live with his dad in Ukiah.

It’s never an easy feat to adapt a beloved book. Besides the usual outcry from Superfans, a 500-page adolescent hipster-training manual from 1993 would need some editing to become a 90-minute feature film. It was important to have a light touch so as to preserve the essence of C.D. Payne’s rich characters. But Gustin Nash was up to the task and managed to write a script with good sense of modern timelessness. (e.g. He quickly did away with the ubiquitous cell phone conundrum with a quick line about how Nick can’t afford one.) There were other small tweaks as well. Cera’s Nick isn’t quite as incessantly bonered as the literary version (perhaps, by making him two years older, he’s had time to come to terms with his all-consuming sexuality). Die-hard fans may miss references to “T.E.s” and “I’m Single, Let’s Mingle”. But obsessing over these little differences is nitpicking an otherwise extremely enjoyable film. Nash’s script serves as not only excellent shorthand for the novel but also an entertaining and, in terms of its cinematic peers, original comedy film.

In general, Cera haters have a valid complaint. If his brand of charming awkwardness isn’t your thing, you’re going to have a hard time watching any of his movies. But, in this case, I hope the dissenters give him another shot. While normal Nick is still very Cera-esque, his turn as Francois definitely showcases another level to his talents. Francois is crude, hard and physical comedy gold. Cera isn’t the only one who gets to show what else he can do. There isn’t a single weak link in the cast. Zack Galifianakis, normally typecast as the lovable weirdo, gets to be completely un-charming as redneck, Jerry. Justin Long is spot on as Sheeni’s druggy guru older brother. And while Steve Buscemi and Fred Willard have a hard time stretching their acting muscles, they are still perfectly cast in roles well within their means.

Also notable is the film’s structure. For a film based on a fictional journal, Arteta and Nash managed to avoid the usual voiceover trappings, using this type of exposition sparingly. It’s hardly noticeable, whilst still giving the uninitiated viewer a clear overview of the protagonist. Whimsical animated sequences transition the story from one location to another (or serve to…ahem…accurately illustrate a mushroom trip).

Michael Cera has lamented that C.D. Payne’s novel would have made a better mini-series than a feature film. Indeed there are several characters that were cut and others could have been developed more. But since they signed up for a feature, this was certainly the way to do it. And for those without the mental baggage of the book, “Youth in Revolt” is just a good, solid comedy.

 

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Ten Years, Man. Ten YEARS.

Naturally, a lot of people are talking today about the end of the decade and where they were at the beginning of it. I thought about the enormous party we had at my Tacoma apartment where I lived with a very dear friend. It was a party so big that we were still finding confetti when we moved out 10 months later. It was a rager, and not just because it was the beginning of a new millennium. I was graduating from college in the year 2000. I was excited and terrified. It felt like real life was going to start then and though I was looking forward to it, I kind of wanted to be a kid a while longer. Part of this was because I had NO idea what I was going to “be”.

My career aspirations were all over the map. I was going to receive a degree in English Literature. How the hell that was going to translate into a job, I had no idea. There was much I didn’t know that night. I didn’t know that I would be living in London a year later. I didn’t know that I was going to fall in love again several times. I didn’t know that I was going to have my heart broken seemingly beyond repair and somehow find a way to recover. I didn’t know that I would have an unpaid “career” making movies that would be tremendously fulfilling from a creative standpoint, but utterly unfeasible from a monetary standpoint. I didn’t know that this career would take me around the country meeting loads of amazing people, some of them famous. Or that I would make several lifelong friendships because of it. I didn’t know that I would also make ends meet by working crappy day jobs. Or that I would eventually have the confidence to trade in a high-paying, unfulfilling day job to work at a scamtastic internet “startup” before finally realizing that writing about other people’s films is a lot more fun and less stressful than trying to make your own.

I certainly didn’t know that I would fall in love again, this time beyond measure, with a man who is perfect for me in every single way. I would not have suspected that I would allow this man to knock me up. I would not have believed that I would be sitting in front of a computer on New Years Eve 2009, stone cold sober and full of baby, trying not to care about feeling like a manatee in a cocktail dress, about to drive to a party with some of the most amazing people I have ever known. Part of me is sad that I won’t be able to party like it’s 1999. I’ve definitely been feeling a bit left out of the fun lately. But I know I couldn’t stay there. And I can’t stay here either. The next 10 years is probably going to bring a whole lot of things that 2009 Baxter can’t currently conceive. It’s about to get weird. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy New Year, everybody.