Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dinner last night: chiles relleno

A typical "chile relleno" would be stuffed with cheese, breaded, and fried. I stuffed these poblano peppers with mozzarella and spicy italian sausage before baking them. They would have been better paired with a green salsa, but were still quite tasty on their own.

I like this concept: adding a poblano to pretty much anything imparts it with a slight spiciness and great earthy flavor. But the process to prepare the chiles--removing the seeds, charring them under the broiler, letting them steam and cool, peeling the skin--takes a bit too much time to make it viable for dinner on a typical night.

Still: yum!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I read this article

By Chuck Klosterman, writing for Grantland about an interview with Royce White, estranged forward of the Houston Rockets in the NBA. It's mostly about mental illness.

It's a remarkable article, one of the best pieces of sportswriting I've read in a long time.

A few quotes:
"But if you want to talk about it through that lens, every player should have their own doctor. The reality is that American businesses are built on the idea of cutting overhead. And how do we cut overhead?" White points to the door that leads from the patio to the main restaurant. "Why do restaurants put exit signs over every exit? I bet if Cheesecake Factory didn't have to do that, they wouldn't. Because it would cost less to do nothing. They have to be forced to do that. So if a team or a business can save money by making things less safe, they're going to do that. They don't care. It's a conflict of interest to have the team doctor paid by the team. What we need is a doctor who can look at a situation and say, 'Listen, I know the team wants you to do this, and I know their doctor is saying you should do this. But as a non-biased doctor with no interest in how you perform athletically, I recommend differently.' Right now, you have players pushing themselves back in three weeks who have three-month injuries."
He's speaking about the NBA specifically, but it's easy to see how this argument generalizes to all professional sports. One might easily read this passage as a response to the Robert Griffin III injury of a few weeks ago.

Q: So what would you have done if, upon drafting you, the Rockets had said this: "Look — this is going to be hard for you. It might, in fact, be detrimental. But that is just part of competing at this sport at this level."
A: You can't do that, though. You can't discriminate against somebody, because that's ADA law. People say I'm getting special treatment, but it's the NBA who wants special treatment. They want to say they're this rarefied profession where laws don't apply. But ADA law is federal.
This gets at a whole lot of questions about how we view athletes as people outside of society, people (or, instead of people, competitors) who exist in a world with different rules and different expectations. But White's point is well-taken. Viewed simply, why should the NBA be exempt from something like the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Part of what I like about this article is that it operates beyond the cliches of the typical reporter/athlete interaction. The classic joke about athletes is that they're too dumb to talk in anything but hackneyed phrases: "we gave 110%"; "I want to thank God for this win"; "I'm just happy to get the win"; etc, etc. But an interview takes two. Athletes provide idiotic responses to interviewers who ask idiotic questions. When Klosterman (not really a sportswriter by trade) engages White with intelligence and respect, White reciprocates.

Give the piece a read.

Friday, January 25, 2013

GF Fried chicken!

Gluten-free fried chicken thighs, smashed red potatoes, and steamed green beans last night for dinner at the Wilsonheldt compound. I used gluten-free AP flour instead of regular AP flour, without adding anything else--no starch, no xantham gum, no nothing. As a result the chicken's crust tended to crack and come apart instead of hanging on to the chicken. Still, the chicken tasted great. This is the second time I've made fried chicken in my deep fryer, and the first time I've made it GF. I think the GF version turned out better than the regular version. The spice mixture I used this time really worked: a ton of cajun seasoning, paprika, chili powder and salt.

Next time I might try something else in place of the flour. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What makes a movie watchable?

I was going to title this blog post "What makes a movie bad?", but thinking about that has guided me in another direction.

I watched "One for the Money" a few nights ago, the mystery-rom-com starring Katherine Heigl as a down-on-her-luck woman who takes up as a bounty hunter to make money. The movie is bad. Worse, it's boring. The performances are boring. The plot is boring and predictable. The movie is full of boring shots. The entire world of the film is premised on reprehensible gender politics, which, apart from being disgusting, help turn the characters to cardboard men and women.

"One for the Money" is one of the few movies I've ever watched that I wished I hadn't watched, and that realization got me thinking: so many movies are silly, or "bad," or premised on reprehensible gender politics. But I'm rarely sorry to have watched a film. Not only did "One for the Money" fail to be good, it failed to be watchable.

So, what's the difference? At least in the case of "One for the Money," the movie's greatest failing, and what makes it unwatchable, is that there's no imagination. No one had a Big Idea About Film that they tried to implement, least of all the director, who seems to coax the least interesting performances possible out of her actors. It didn't have to be this way. The film, which seems light-hearted and happy despite it's horrific subject matter, might have benefited from the same insanity and grit that elevated "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans." Or it could have gone the other way, and reveled in joyful, easy violence and nihilism like countless other action films.

I could go on to talk about why "One for the Money" is really gross when it comes to gender, but it's not worth it. I would rather spend my time talking about the way "Django Unchained" represents women (not well) than how "One for the Money" posits all men as sexual predators. This is because "Django" has other qualities that aren't bad. I can't say the same for "One for the Money." It's a movie that deserves to be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Want to learn how to write? Watch this.

I haven't written much since the new year began and I'm hoping to reverse that trend in the coming weeks. Best to take the advice of the video above and get back to fundamentals.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My cat

His name is Halloween, because he was born 10/31/12. Adopted 1/6/13-

He likes the keyboard.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Quick quote on Catch-22

Reading through Rotten Reviews, containing negative reviews of great works of literature, I came across this line from Whitey Balliett, reviewing Catch-22 for The New Yorker:
Heller wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior the children fall into when they know they are losing our attention.
Oof. That is first class condescension.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A few thoughts on the violence in "Django Unchained"

Part of me has always been skeptical of movie violence. Something feels immoral, or perhaps amoral, about the ways movie protagonists--the characters we sympathize with, or even relate to--deploy righteous violence as a matter of course. Killing is integral to the meanings of so many movies that I'm having a hard time picking only a few examples. I'm thinking of the swaggering, idiotic imperialism of violence in "The Expendables." The joyous violence of "Looper," in which killing seems the logical way to tie up loose threads of the plot. The countless movies, like the two I've just mentioned, in which our protagonist is a murderer by trade.  In movies like these violence does not have consequences beyond those immediate to our hero(ine). Victims do not have families, characters appear in the film just to die (or, rather, to be killed by our hero), and death by gunshot or stabbing is usually a momentary bloodless affair.

Then there's "Django Unchained," a movie filled with righteous murder and ecstatic fountains of spurting blood. But not only those things. Each moment of fun violence comes as part of Django's quest to rescue his wife, in which he kills dozens of white people who make their living on slavery. There are also moments of stunning, revolting violence, when the film shows us slaves whipped, set upon by dogs, or the nearly unwatchable scene of two slaves forced to fight to the death for the pleasure of white aristocrats.

The aesthetics of violence in the film aren't too hard to puzzle out: "Django" wants us to realize that some sorts of violence are righteous, and some aren't. Unlike "The Expendables," in which "bad guys" are so-labelled and marked for death by awful directorial fiat, in "Django" the bad guys are truly bad. Each of them has done physical or existential violence to Django and his wife by being a cog in the institution of slavery. The retribution sought by Django is an appropriate application of the popular cinematic maxim that the protagonist of an action movie must take justice into his own hands. That maxim makes sense here when, usually, it strikes me as scary. That's because, in the world of "Django," all the things done to Django, to his wife, and to every other slave in the film are perfectly legal. What other option does Django have but violence?

Still, I found myself wondering, as I sat through more scenes of bloody sadism: is this really necessary? It might be fun, and it might be righteous, but why? Why take pleasure in this violence? I think there are two parts to the answer.

1) Django (and, by proxy, the audience) deserves it. Django suffered through slavery (and we suffer from its memory--some of us more profoundly than others). "Django's" violence is payback, and though there are reasons why it might not feel good, those reasons are not within the scope of this film. The film is about triumph over and revenge on slavery.

2) The different aesthetics of violence in "Django" accentuate the film's unreality. Can anyone believe they are seeing real violence, or anything approaching it, when the violence is depicted in such profoundly different ways in the same film? The juxtaposition of the fight-to-the-death scene mentioned earlier and the hyper-stylized slaveholder deaths that register as cool or interesting (and even then only for a moment) highlights the ways that none of the violence we're seeing in real. The violence and death meted out by Django is limited only by our imaginations. The violence and death meted out to slaves is limited by the bounds of taste. Django's violence can be righteous and fun only because it isn't real, and everyone knows it.

I think "Django Unchained" is a great movie. The heightened reality of an exploitation film (which is at least part of what Django is) suits the antebellum south very well. And, more than most films, it's conscious of its violence. The film deploys violence according to a morality that makes sense in our own world, which is more than most movies can say.