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A celebration of the bizarre, live from Los Angeles.

SARA IN WONDERLAND: Happy thanksgiving, turkeys!!! I love holidays. I love vacations. I love the fact that I woke up this morning singing, "Painting the roses red! Painting the roses red!"

Here's the piece I wrote for reason this morning.

Because of my guest and the unfortunate kidnapping of my home computer, I probably won't be posting again until Monday.

posted by Sara 11:31:00 AM
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I'm involved in a fun listserv/blog debate right now with a certain Roahn Wynar and some of my other former Daily Texan colleagues. Roahn has created a list of Forbidden Plot Motifs for movies, suggesting screenwriters just avoid them entirely.

He does a good job identifying common plot devices/motifs, but the actual critique misses the point.

A common archetype only becomes "cliché" when it's presented with a shortage of creative detail. Much good writing takes all these common archetypes and disguises them as fresh, unique human stories; stories we believe in.

Your critique has to be leading you astray when it puts a movie like Lord of the Rings on the list. We *like* stories about the little guys fighting the big evil; they appeal. What makes or breaks the movie is the specifics: who are the guys? what's the nature of the evil? These details needs to fascinate. LOTR is an especially impressive feat because it has opened fantasy to people whose brains are either too narrow or too dull to appreciate it: It has made cool people identify with hobbits, who are the most uncool creatures in Middle Earth.

Or The Sixth Sense. Children *are* creepy. Especially ones who see dead people.

Speaking of sci-fi, I saw the original *Solaris* (1972) last night. Great movie. A bit too long. But it too could be said to revolve around a theoretically potential-for-forbidden motif (or two or three): psychologist hired to determine reality finds himself among the confused. K-Pax is an example of a movie that uses that cliche in a far less successful capacity. But it was bad writing and a hammy version of self-discovery, not the plot convention itself, that wrecked K-Pax. (which wasn't nearly as bad as some other movies that came out that year, incidentally)

You have to add value to a cliche to make it great. Too many Hollywood scripts don't manage that. Nevertheless, no motif should be forbidden.

posted by Sara 12:29:00 PM
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OLDER NOT WISER: So yesterday was my birthday. I'm 25. I had planned on turning 24 again this year instead, but I keep letting everybody in on the secret so I'm not sure it's going to work.

According to my former roommate Rene, the grand old age of 25 means that my frontal lobe is now fully developed so that I can leave all the crazy irrationality of my youth behind. Frightening, until we consider that Rene, mad Frenchman that he is, is 60 years old and given to temper tantrums.

(There was more to this post but it was hangover-induced raving so I deleted it.)

posted by Sara 4:42:00 PM
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GRRRR: Who do these Daily News valley girls think they are? "L.A. leads U.S. in murders!" the Daily News headline blares; "an outbreak of gang violence has turned L.A. into the murder capital of the U.S." the story opens. Of course, the stats show that scaled for population, we actually have LESS murders than Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Less murders than the City of Brotherly Love, for Christsake!

What is this, retaliation because Angelenos think they're better than those who live over the mountains? I, of course, have infinite admiration for all those who have turned the 405 into less a highway than a chapel for contemplative meditation. (Don't you think that's a nice way to think of it? I do.)

Actually, it appears that the police, who have dealt with a string of murders in recent weeks, are the ones who framed the story that way. But boy, the Daily News went and ran with it.

And yes, the article pisses me off even though the author could have used my own neighborhood to pepper up his story. A guy was killed in a gang incident across the street from my apartment. I just don't understand what sensational newspaper articles, ones that scream out to readers, "Stay home! Be afraid! Let the police do their work!" add to anyone's quality of life.

Well, anyway, I'm proud to have now lived in two of the nation's Murder Capitals.

posted by Sara 4:50:00 PM
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Many years ago I quit nearly a decade of vegetarianism after a beer-and-potatoes diet led to a near mental breakdown on the streets near Berlin's Zoo Station. My first post-veg meal was a McDonald's Fish Filet. My, she was yar! Since then, I've developed a real taste for flesh, but I still have crises of conscience every so often.

This weekend the LA Times Mag had an article about
The Guru of Happy Cows, Bill Niman of the Niman ranch. Why are his cows so happy, you ask, as they await their day in the slaughterhouse? Well, besides getting to roam around acres of luscious grass, THE COWHANDS CONVERSE WITH THEM. Yes, that's right, they chat up the future Filet Mignon of Chez Panisse and the other trendy restaurants that stock Nimans.

Part of the reason big chefs like Niman's meat is that he doesn't use antibiotics, which makes their uppity customers happy. I'm pretty ignorant on that issue and don't really care one way or another. I'm just glad the cows get talked to. (Though if that isn't shining evidence of so-called runaway capitalism, I don't know what is. We're so rich we talk to our cows! Bitchin.)

But I also like this Niman guy's general philosophy. He's been criticized for a recent deal to supply Chipotle, partly owned by the McDonald's corporation; people say he's supporting the Big Evils by doing business with them. He refutes that by saying such deals are the only way to change the industry on a larger scale. Make change from within has always been my motto. And in Niman's case, make a killer profit doing it.

So, I decided I had to try this meat, which supposedly tastes better. (Anxious cows secrete something that makes them tougher, we learn.) And lo and behold, there it was at Trader Joe's: Niman's London Broil for $5.99 a pound.

Well, I'm no steak connoisseur, but it seemed pretty average to me. Then again, as someone relatively new to red meat, the error might be mine. I don't really know how to cook it. I just threw the thing in a skillet with some salt and pepper and cooked until it was only a little pink. Next time, I guess I'll marinate first.

posted by Sara 2:41:00 PM
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I read Donna Tartt's Secret History--arrogant classics students, bachanalian rituals, murder--three times when it came out a decade ago. (I was 15; I hope I'd like it if I reread it now.) Since then, I've been waiting for two things to happen. First, the screen adaptation, and second, Tartt's new book. And ... "it's all happening now."

I knew the movie would be made eventually. I started adapting the book a while back, but quickly got discouraged when I found out the rights were already purchased. But now it seems to be much closer to happening -- and naturally, my very least favorite actress is producing and starring: Gweneth Paltrow (who was actually terrifc in the Anniversary Party; she should can the haughty beauty bit and play more young, fun roles). I wanted Kate Winslet or else an unknown for the lead. The article I read on the subject was more gossipy than informational, though, so it's possible that Gwenny has twelve other movies to refridgerate first.

I ALSO discovered the other day, via Salon, that Tartt's next book, The Little Friend, is out. I'll read it, but the subject matter isn't nearly as intriguing, and Secret History fans are trashing it on Amazon.

posted by Sara 9:12:00 AM
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8 Mile: Fun, formulaic fluff. And hagiographic too. In the attempt to reconcile Eminem's violent temper and self-absorbtion with his saintly, tender side, he occasionally comes across as a little schizophrenic. Maybe it's a modern-day Hamlet dilemma: Is the man crazy or conflicted?

posted by Sara 10:06:00 AM
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THE POWER TO LIVE: I finally saw Spirited Away last night, which is, I'm told, Japan's highest grossing film ever. I really enjoyed it; my companion didn't: "I understand [the success of] Godzilla. I don't understand this." He took at least four naps as 10-year-old Chihiro met her various challenges: getting a job in a boiler room full of enchanted soot-mites that feed on multicolored stars, pulling a wicked slug from her savior-friend-boy-dragon, transforming a powerful junkyardlike stink spirit into a majestic dragon, charming a gigantic Siddhartha-esque brat baby, and on and on. Her ultimate challenge is to rescue her pig-parents (and a few others) from a haunted bath house.

The story/script itself held more than a few disappointing moments. But the film's visual details--dominated by absurdity, unrefined creativity, and anything that bounces--are what make it wonderful.

And there's something else, too. There's a truthfulness to Chihiro's experience that makes the story more than the sum of its absurd elements. Hers is the ultimate adolescent growing-up story. It begins as a nightmare, peaks as a quest, and ends on a pretty adult note: abbreviated friendships and permanent goodbyes, and the knowledge of a slowly growing distance from your parents as life's secret trials stack up beneath you.

That's my take anyway. Go here to see what the filmmaker himself has to say about it. A snippet:

It will be a story of a girl who was thrown into a world where both good and evil exist. She gets trained, learns about friendship and devotion, and survives by using her wisdom. She finds her way out, dodges, and comes back to her old daily life for the time being. However, it is not because evil was destroyed -- just as the world does not disappear, (evil does not disappear). It is because she gained the power to live.

posted by Sara 11:31:00 AM
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CNN is reporting that Al Qaeda has taken responsibility for "bombing nightclubs and whorehouses in Indonesia" on a Web site it's used before to claim terrorist acts. CNN doesn't provide a link or much information about this Web site, just a few quotes from it "translated by CNN." I'm more than willing to believe anti-"Jewish-Crusader alliance" terrorists are claiming responsibility for Bali--as opposed to Muslim Indonesians with specific, domestic goals--but this article seems weirdly flimsy and lacking in context. Or maybe what's weird about it is the insistence on the term Al Qaeda...what does that mean these days, exactly?

The article then moves on to quotes from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who said he had also seen a translation of the statement: "It's a hijacking of Islam. It's a distortion of Islam."

posted by Sara 10:02:00 AM
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ARNY 2006: I'm all idiot, no savant when it comes to elections, so I have little to say. The Republican sweep kinda depresses me, since Iraq must've loomed large in people's minds as they ticked their ballots. (Or? )

But last night wasn't fateful just because Bush lined up all his eggs to do whatever he wants in the ME. While watching returns post-Buffy (I should admit, I lobbied to turn them off but lost), I happened to catch Tom Brokaw laying a big warm wet one on
Arnold Schwartzenegger's ass while discussing his After-School Program initiative (which won big); giant slurping sounds were faintly audible as the Terminator answered the "are you running?" question with a charming Machiavellian spiel on bi-partisanship.

To make matters worse, Schwartzenegger was looking very, very good and very, very tan (especially against the Grey Davis tableau). He's also been quoting his movies while ruminating on policy at press appearances, along the lines of "It's 'hasta la vista' to juvenile delinquincy."

So, clearly, the die is cast: California can look forward to Gov. Schwartzenegger in 2006. He'd probably make it to the Oval Office if it weren't for that whole Austrian thing. Hmmm...can Austrian hulks be First Ladies?

(UPDATE: Thanks to William for the correction to this post--which shall go unnamed.)

posted by Sara 2:30:00 PM
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MORE ON JOURNEYS: Jesse walked emailed me David Zurawik's review from the Baltimore Sun. Here's a snippet:

"But, boy, do you have to wade through a lot of self-indulgence from the filmmaker. There are way too many words and pictures showing and telling such monumental things as: how much Pelosi loves purple (right down to her eyeglass frames and the wardrobe she packed), what kind of birthday cakes she received on the press plane, and what guy she thought she might like to get to know better until she found out he was married. It goes on and on until you want to scream, "It's about the president of the United States not you, OK?"

No, David, it's about Pelosi AND the prez. Personally, I think the best part of this movie is what Zurawik criticizes here: It's frivolous. How weird (and fun) is it to watch a nearly completely frivolous documentary about the future president of the United States? And Pelosi may be self-indulgent, but it's pretty amusing, even admirable, that she clearly considers herself as interesting a documentart subject as George Bush. (Though I left the movie thinking she might get annoying in large doses.)

The only trouble is when she tries to make the movie something more. She attempts what she considers (judging by her remarks at the SXSW screening I saw) a scathing critique of election coverage. But it's actually a pretty "no duh" mediocre critique: Like anyone suffers from the illusion that the journalists who travel with the candidates are doing anything worthwhile.

In any case, it's easy to disregard those attempts to add some "serious" value, and just enjoy the entertainment.

posted by Sara 11:04:00 AM
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Check out Tony Pierce's terrific new photo essay.

posted by Sara 11:59:00 AM
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Among last year's big hits at SXSW was Alexandra Pelosi's JOURNEYS WITH GEORGE, the movie she made with a camcorder while working in the Bush press corps during his presidential campaign. The prez came up with the title himself--though he recommended spelling Journeys with a "G". On its own, this portrait of Bush and life on the campaign trail is extremely entertaining and fun. But it's also remarkable: Its probably the most personal, unproduced, non-political portrayal of a president ever available to the public.

Pelosi, daughter of the Dem senator Pelosi, is not a republican. But she ends up liking Bush--Bush the man, not Bush the politician. The fairly rosy, warm portrait of Bush that results seemed to disgruntle (if not infuriate) some in the Austin audience, who would have preferred a savage takedown, a scathing indictment of his politics, and probably at least a few close-ups of his spider veins. (Did anyone else catch that Economist cover? Someone forgot the pancake makeup.)

Anyway, I had been wondering about what happened with Pelosi's doc. Indiewire has news today:
"Journeys with George... has been optioned to be adapted into a feature film by Sid Ganis' Out of the Blue Entertainment. Pelosi is the daughter of Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and her grandfather, Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., was a five-term Democratic Congressman from Maryland.

So I guess a larger audience will be seeing the story of her doc, if not the piece itself.

UPDATE: Hipster wannabe Jim Dedman, who unlike me has cable, informs me that *Journeys with George* will play on HBO on election night.

posted by Sara 9:22:00 AM
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