Monday September 14, 2020
Fire and Virus
I've been refreshing two website pages every hour on the hour today. The first is the Air Quality Index for Seattle; the second is Amazon's “track package” page for the air purifier I bought last week. It's scheduled to arrive “before 8 PM,” while Seattle's AQI was scheduled to get better by 11 AM, so for a time it seemed like a race. I was rooting for both. OK, mostly for the AQI. Sadly, it looks like the winds and rains were less than anticipated and now they're saying it'll be Friday before Seattle sees, or smells, some relief. Fuck.
We woke up to it last week, Tuesday morning, the day after Labor Day, with the apartment smelling like a campfire. It shot up the previous night: from good (below 50), to unhealthy for people with conditions (101-150) to unhealthy for everyone (151-200). It toyed with us for a few days, and managed to get below 100 for a few hours on Thursday, allowing me to open the windows during that time, but then it went back up again. At times, it's gotten over 200 but mostly it's just hovered in the 170-190 range. Current: 183. Current mood: shitty.
First Trump, then Covid, now this. A reprise of those horrible weeks back in 2018. It's like this every late summer now.
Glad I got my exercise in the weekend before it all went bad but wish I'd known to close the windows Monday night. Either way, in air-conditioner-less Seattle, the stuff seeps in. You feel it in your throat and eyes. My wife has been coughing a bit, has a bit of a sore throat. That's worrisome in the middle of a pandemic but oddly less so in the middle of a pandemic and wildfire season. “Well, it's probably just the smoke,” you say. It's the other thing. How many ways are they trying to kill us? We need an update of Frost: “Some say the world will end in fire/ Some say in virus.”
I joke, but it's no joke when the air feels like your enemy. It's one thing you can't get away from.
Current AQI: 177. Current mood: shitty.
I'll let you know who wins.
UPDATE, 8:06 PM: Refreshed the Amazon page for about the 30th time today and it now says the purifier will be delivered Tuesday or Wednesday. “We're very sorry your delivery is late. Most late packages arrive in a day. If you have not received your package by September 16, you can come back here the next day for a refund or replacement.” Right. Or worse. This isn't like a shirt or a book, boys. It's to help breathe.
Current AQI: 185. Current mood: a little pissed off.
Saturday May 18, 2019
SIFF Opening Night 2019: Worth It?
Yesterday at a SIFF screening of the French film “Sink or Swim” (think: “Full Monty” meets the 1985 SNL skit about synchronized swimming), I asked a friend whether she'd gone to SIFF's opening night the night before. She said she hadn't and kind of made a face. I said, “Yeah, sometimes I wonder why we do it. Basically we‘re paying exorbitant prices to dress up in uncomfortable clothes and fight rush-hour traffic in order to watch a movie in a venue not made for movies. And the movies often suck.”
“But, it’s good, it's good,” to quote Shrevie.
Before this year's show, talking with another patron in the McCaw Hall lobby, I initmated Patricia and I had been doing Opening Night for about 10 years now. I just did the math and ... nope. We did 2011 (“The First Grader”), missed 2012 (Lynn Shelton's “Your Sister's Sister”), but have been ever since. So seven years running. What have we seen in those seven years?
- Joss Whedon's “Much Ado About Nothing”
- “Jimi: All By My Side”
- “Cafe Society”
- “The Big Sick”
- “The Bookshop”
Odd mix. I like it when they get all Seattle on us (Jimi Hendrix; Lynn Shelton), but of those six titles I'd probably only wholeheartedly recommend “The Big Sick.”
BTW: You know how long ago three years ago was? That was when SIFF opened with a Woody Allen movie. No way that's happening now. Not from an org that begins every festival with the morally self-congratulatory and ultimately meaningless declaration, “SIFF acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people.” BTW: You capitalize “Indingenous”? Is that right?
This year's opener was “Sword of Trust,” also by Lynn Shelton, and starring Marc Maron, which I hope to write about soon—if for no other reason than so I don't forget about it. Maron was good. Parts were funny. I would like to hear it in a smaller, less echo-y venue.
The opening night after-party was odd and a bit skimpy. Same venue but with much less food (one food truck outside rather than six), and a red carpet/VIP area that seems at odds with SIFF's supposedly moral stances. “SIFF acknowledges that we are partying on Indigenous land, away from the rest of you, and isn't it a blast.”
For the month-long fest, Patricia and I have a list of about 10 movies to see together (including: “X: The Exploited,” “Blinded by the Light,” “Putin's Witnesses,” “Cities of Last Things” and “Meeting Gorbachev”), and I have about five more solo projects (mostly Chinese films like “One Child Nation” and “A Family Tour”), but let me know if you hear anything good. Always interested in seeing something good.
Thursday May 17, 2018
The Englishwoman who opened a bookstore and brought down a mountain of trouble.
The Seattle International Film Festival kicks off tonight with a movie that looks like not-much to me. “The Bookshop” is set in the recent past (1959), and chronicles “a headstrong widow” (Emily Mortimer) battling “provincial locals” (coastal Brits) over what was then commonplace and is now disappearing (a bookshop). Seems a bit precious and obvious. If it were set today, and featured a woman (or anyone) fighting the indifference to books of millennials (and everyone), sign me up. But this? Hope I'm wrong. If not, there's always gin and tonic at the screening. P and I will both attend in what passes for our finery.
I was in Minneapolis this past weekend, visiting my mother and seeing my nephew Jordy in a high school play (“The Laramie Project”), but I did spend some time going over SIFF's schedule of 400+ movies. Right now I‘ve got about 15 picked out, with fingers decidedly crossed.
Gotta say, the blurbs didn’t help much. Most are one-sentence long—as if directed to be so—and a few are inevitably run-ons. It's as if the writer is running downhill, breathless, trying to tell us all the good news:
In this Western-inspired crime thriller set in the Chinese countryside, a laboring family man whose brutal past led to biting his own tongue off in a fight, sets out on a mission of stunningly choreographed violence after his son is kidnapped by a crossbow-wielding, meat-obsessed gangster.
Many have trouble sticking their landings:
In a rapidly gentrifying Oakland, home to co-writers and co-stars Rafael Casal and “Hamilton” Tony Award-winner Daveed Diggs, two lifelong hip-hop-loving friends struggle to adapt in this energetic slice-of-life buddy comedy set in a world that won't let it be one. [???]
Others needed a copy editor or at least a pair of m-dashes:
Following a serendipitous meeting on a train through the rugged Turkish countryside, two should unite for a journey that will offer new insight into the importance of charting one's own path, wherever it may lead.
The gorgeous swirling sands of the Thar Desert provide the backdrop for this emotional revenge saga about a scorpion singer, famed shamanistic healers that could supposedly cure scorpion bites by chanting, who has lost her grandmother after suffering an assault.
I‘ve got a few movies picked out (“Love, Gilda”; “On Borrowed Time”; “Love Education”) but if you’ve heard anything, let me know. Don't hesitate to tell me all the good news.
Sunday March 11, 2018
The View from the 520
Yesterday it got into the mid-50s and I went for a bikeride over the newly constructed 520 bridge. The Cascades were out. My iPhone camera doesn't do the shot justice.
The bridge was crowded but not as crowded as when I did the same two months ago. You know where everyone was? Fremont Brewery. I biked by there, too, thinking I'd grab a quick drink, but the line indicated anything but quick.
Today is supposed to be mid-60s. Get out, get out, wherever you are.
Thursday August 31, 2017
The False Equivalence of the Lenin Statue in the Confederate Memorial Debate
In the wake of Charlottesville, when toppling Confederate statues and memorials not only became the topic of the day but a good idea, Seattle's embattled mayor Ed Murray brought an odd wrinkle to the conversation. He suggested two memorials in Seattle come down: a 1926 Daughters of the Confederacy memorial to Southern vets, which was on private property in Lakeview Cemetery; and the famous statue of Vladimir Lenin, perpetually on display in lower Fremont ... which was also on private property.
I was surprised to hear that the Confederate memorial even existed. Confederate Vets? In Seattle? But whatever: It was on private property. We had no say. Lenin, too. What bugged me, though, was that Murray put the two in the same category. Was he striving for objectivity? One of theirs, one of ours? If so, like many a journalist before him, he simply found a false equivalence.
The Confederate memorial was created to honor the Confederacy. The Lenin statue, brought here from a defeated Russia and placed where it was, on a nondescript street corner, wasn't set up to honor anything. The opposite, really. From the beginning, it's been steeped in absurdity and irony. Existing where it does, it carries with it an Ozymandias-like warning:
'Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains ... except for a gyro joint and some Italian sandwich shoppe
And naked cyclists once a year
This week in The Stranger I found out somebody agrees with me: a Russian to boot. He adds a coda: Look on the dildo on my head, ye mighty, and despair.
Wednesday August 30, 2017
Flying into Seattle last night in the haze made all of our waterways—from Lake Washington to Puget Sound—seem like giant puddles.
And the goat-footed balloonMan whistles far and wee.
Thursday May 19, 2016
SIFF-List 2016: from 'Weiner' to 'Wiener-Dog'
Yes, Diane Kruger made it easier to choose “Disorder” (orig. title: “Maryland”).
Today the Seattle International Film Festival opens with Woody Allen's “Cafe Society.” Should be fun barring protests from Frank Sinatra lookalikes.
It's always both fun (and time-consuming) figuring out which movies to see at SIFF. I usually get a 20-pack in the fall and in the spring I figure out how to use them. This year I rolled the dice with the list below:
- Weiner: USA, documentary
- The Lovers and the Despot: USA, documentary
- Chimes at Midnight (1965): a good print of Orson Welles' little-seen classic
- Welcome to Norway!: Norway, Comedy/drama
- The People vs. Fritz Bauer: Germany, drama
- Disorder: France/Belgium, thriller (“Maryland,” the original, is a better title)
- A Man Called Ove: Sweden, comedy
- Wiener-Dog, USA, comedy
- Truman: Spain, comedy-drama
- Whistleblower: Philippines, drama
- Tower, USA, animated/drama/documentary
- The Brand New Testament, Belgium, comedy
- Women He's Undressed: Australia, documentary
- Dragon Inn (1967): Taiwan, action-drama
- NUTS!: USA, documentary
- The General (1927): USA, comedy, Buster Keaton
If you hear anything good (or bad), let me know.
Thursday July 30, 2015
'Blue Angels, Ugh'
I was biking into the Bellevue office today for a team-building event when I was stopped on the I-90 bridge by the police. Not for speeding (wucka) but because the bridge was closed to pedestrians and bicycles. Cars were still able to cross for another 15 minutes, then they too were banned for a few hours. The Blue Angels were in town and were practicing over Lake Washington.
This happens every year so I should have anticipated it.
Alternate routes? Cars can go the 520 bridge, or drive I-5 south to Renton. On a bike, you're kind of screwed. The 520 bridge doesn't allow for bikes and going north or south around the lake takes a good long while. So I missed the event.
Why don't they let traffic across I-90 during the Angels practice runs? I guess because they don't want drivers being startled and getting into accidents and suing the city and whatnot. As for how this applies to foot and bicycle traffic, I'm not sure. Wouldn't the lack of cars, for example, be a giveaway to anyone crossing the bridge? Couldn't the same police officers that told me I couldn't cross the bridge stop me and tell me to watch out for Blue Angels? Look! Here they come! FOOOOOOOSH!
When I texted my predicament to Patricia, she texted back the feeling of a lot of Seattlites at this time of year: “Blue Angels, ugh.”
It's very Seattle being Seattle. We have some of the worst traffic in the country, yet several times a year we close down this major thoroughfare in the middle of the day. We also have drawbridges over the ship canal, and we'll raise and lower these on a dime for boats going from Lake Washington to Puget Sound and back, stopping traffic in both directions. Except during rush hour, which we quaintly designate as something like 4:30-6 PM.
First world problems, I know. In some parts of the world, when similar jets scream overhead they drop things.
I did stick around for a bit today; and while everyone else was watching the Blue Angels I took photos of the bridge without any traffic on it. All that concrete.
Bike cops patrol the empty I-90 bridge before letting on foot traffic.
A view you don't normally get on foot.
'And here you are; and it's a beautiful day.'
Tuesday July 14, 2015
Can’t Get Theah from Heah
Last night I drove to Sea-Tac airport to pick up Patricia, who had spent a week in Chicago helping relatives with their new baby. It was 10:30 PM so traffic was light on I-5, but I noticed when I got onto 518 that the opposite lane was slowed by construction. I couldn’t tell if it was moving construction or not. I also couldn’t think of a better route home—other than 99—so I hoped it would clear.
There were the usual delays associated with picking someone up at the airport. The cell phone lot was crowded, then the traffic to arrivals was backed up; so I texted P to meet me in departures after she’d picked up her bag. We got out of there around 11, later than anticipated, but still feeling lucky and rather sneaky.
Then we hit the constuction.
On 518, four lanes narrow to three, but they’d blocked off one lane to narrow it to two. It was the left lane that led to the I-5 North exit, and home. Even after all the cars merged, traffic was still at a crawl. Because? Because construction, or “construction,” eventually narrowed 518 to one lane. Meanwhile, orange cones actually prevented us from taking our I-5 exit to Seattle. Was that the construction project? The exits onto I-5? Regardless, we had no choice but to keep going. So instead of heading north and home, we wound up driving east, to Renton.
The whole thing seemed nuts to me. They cut off I-5? You could pick up someone at Sea-Tac but you couldn’t take them back to Seattle?
“Shouldn’t we have heard something about this?” I asked Patricia.
“When they close I-90 for repairs, they mention it all the time,” Patricia said helpfully.
That’s how we wound up on the other side of Lake Washington, taking 405 to Bellevue, then the I-90 bridge back to Seattle. I was still half-fuming, half-amused by it all; but at least we were nearly home.
Then I saw the orange cones blocking our Rainier Avenue exit.
Except, no, there was an opening that allowed us to actually exit onto Rainier. A minute later, orange cones prevented us from merging from Rainier onto Boren. Ever feel like the city’s against you? Even after we did the detour—down Jackson to 12th, then up 12th to Boren—I was now on the lookout for orange cones. I figured they would be around every corner, blocking me. Or warning me? Don’t go home!
Here’s the big news on the I-5 constuction. Apparently I should need to read the SeaTac blog more often.
UPDATE: I told the above story to my friend Evan, who responded, “The real question is: What did you do to piss off Chris Christie?”
Wednesday July 08, 2015
It’s the main topic of conversation these days in Seattle. Not just the heat but the sun. It's always there. We’re not used to that.
I’ve lived in Seattle since 1991 and I don’t remember a calendar year in which we’ve had as many nice, sunny days as this one—and we’re just halfway through it. And the majority of nice days, traditionally, don’t begin until now. July 5th is traditionally the beginning of the Seattle summer. This year it came earlier. Way earlier. Because we’re Seattleites we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. If it’s nice in April, we thought, it'll be awful in May. If it’s nice in May, we thought, it'll be horrible in June. If it’s nice in June ...
The other shoe we kept waiting to drop may simply be this: the perpetual sunshine, with the Evergreen City baking to a dry, brittle yellow, and forest fires to the east and west.
These past months, I've assumed the cloudless skies and high temps were caused by some aspect of global warming, but according to Tim Egan in the Times, quoting various scientists, including Prof. Cliff Mass (great scientist name), our current unrelenting weather niceness has less to do with climate change than “a huge dome of high pressure to the west and warm ocean temperatures."
At the same time, Egan says the perpetual sunshine is indicative of what we'll get when the world warms by a few degrees. He bemoans the possibility:
I love my little patch of the planet. Love the glaciers in August, the rivers at full flush, carpets of evergreen trees and a predominant breeze from Puget Sound that provides natural air-conditioning for more than three million people in the Seattle metro area.
I’m with him. If I wanted this much sun I would’ve moved to Arizona.
Saturday May 16, 2015
SIFF 2015 Glitches
After SIFF 2015 opening night, my first movie of the fest was “Accused,” the Dutch candidate for last year's best foreign-language film Oscar, which was playing at SIFF Egyptian at 4 PM Friday. It never started. We waited and waited. After 15 minutes, a woman with a beautiful French accent came out and haltingly told us there would be a delay. She tried a second time and then seemed to flee mid-sentence. The third time she came out, 45 minutes after the film was supposed to have begun, she said the film was canceled but couldn't say why. But vouchers could be picked up on the way outside.
A few things:
- Girl with the French accent: Speak up. You can get away with almost anything in this country with that accent. We'll buy whatever you have to say. Just have the confidence to say it.
- SIFF: Give the poor girl details before you push her out like that. Talk about rude.
I probably wouldn't have thought much about all this but for an email from a friend today. He'd had a similar experience:
Today I was supposed to see “The Red Shoes” at the Egyptian. I'll leave out the minor glitches, and just focus on the fact that 20 minutes into the film, the projector died. After a five minute pause, things got going again. 20 minutes later, it died again, and the host apologized, saying that the projectionists had determined that the showing wouldn't continue. Both projectors had the same problem when switching reels.
He added these general complaints about SIFF:
Every year that website is dreadful, every year the will-call experience is at least a little screwy, and this year everyone is talking about the nonsensical choice for the premiere.
Yep, I guess, and yep.
If anyone at SIFF is reading this, I'd start with the website. That thing's a bitch.
SIFF's slogan this year is “Be Watching.” We're trying, we're trying.
Friday May 15, 2015
SIFF 2015 Opening Night
Photo courtesy of Arlene Kim.
At least the opening night movie gave me an opening line.
The Seattle International Film Festival began last night at McCaw Hall with red carpet, booze, beautiful people in beautiful clothes, and an odd choice for opening night movie: Paul Feig's “Spy,” a comedy spoof starring Melissa McCarthy, which is opening nationwide June 5. In three weeks, we'll be able to see it almost anywhere. As I wrote last week, it's the most commercial movie to open SIFF. So as P and I walked around the ground-floor lobby of McCaw Hall last night before the show, it gave me a way to break the ice.
Most of the people I talked with were flummoxed by the choice. Yes, it seems odd, they said. Yeah, I don't get it. Yeah, I'm not happy with it. Only one dude disputed my use of the word “commercial,” thinking that previous years had movies with bigger stars. Which is true, a bit, but those movies weren't opening in three weeks in 3,000 theaters. Sometimes it helps to be a nerd and crunch the numbers beforehand.
So were there elements in “Spy” that the trailer ignored and that made it seem opening-night worthy? Not really. Basically, it's a genre spoof that still buys into the genre. (See: “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “The Other Guys,” most every genre spoof ever made.) We laugh at our doppelganger, our schlub, struggling to make it in wish-fulfillment territory, but in the end we want them to succeed. And they do. They still look and act like us but become them. Hoorah.
It's most interesting in gender terms. The film is not only womencentric but feminist. McCarthy's character starts out as an assistant to Jude Law's character but becomes the better spy. McCarthy's assistant is female (Miranda Hart, funny) and their boss is female (Allison Janney, ditto), while the men are either testosterone-filled incompetents (Jason Statham), pretty-boy incompetents (Jude Law) or horny incompetents (Peter Serafinowicz). Its womencentric take is really the only reason it's playing in film festivals and opening ours.
This is the 41st SIFF, and 41 often seems a letdown after 40. The opening night movie wasn't as intriguing (last year: “Jimi: All Is By My Side”), and the opening-night speeches weren't quite as good. In 2014, Mayor Murray talked about seeing Barbra Streisand's “Funny Girl” nine times as a kid, adding, “By the ninth time, my parents really should've known I was gay.” This year he mostly complained about the oil rig in Elliott Bay. I forget SIFF's slogan last year but this year it's “Be Watching,” which fits laid-back, overly passive Seattle, but also has a creepy vibe to it. Particularly with the binoculars.
Even so, last night was fun. I loved running into Teresa and Erik, Kelly of Lark, Erin, and the longtime festival passholders who thought we didn't know much about movies. I liked the energy at McCaw Hall and afterwards at the Phelps Center. It's one of the few times that people in Seattle actually dress up, and it's fun to do the same. Beatles question: how does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Tiring, actually. I'll be happy to see the rest of the fest in my street clothes.