Saturday, April 30, 2005

Movie Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Life, the universe and everything. Posted by Hello

So before we even start, let's just throw out there that the answer is 42. Always has been, always will be. But that's not the big mystery of Hitchhiker's Guide - the mystery is what is the question? How do you correctly phrase the question of life, the universe and everything?

And so we commence the voyage of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a favorite of my sister Ashley and mine since early childhood. Back when we were just little girls, we would look forward to Saturday mornings - not for Scooby Doo or Smurfs, but to watch Hitchhiker's Guide and Dr. Who on the local PBS channel. This strange choice of programming for two young girls may explain some things - once we stayed up all night together, hanging out on our window seat and waiting for Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo to come walking up our cul-de-sac, and why we thought this might happen I still do not know. In any case, we greeted the feature-length, modern-day version of Hitchhiker's Guide with great enthusiasm. In fact, I was so enthusiastic that I braved yesterday's snowy weather to go to the movie theatre at 1 p.m. and secure us tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show.

Ashley handled her enthusiasm by securing mini-bottles of Jamison’s to sneak into her Coke during the movie, and I have to say, she did seem a little more unbridled than usual, perhaps to the disgruntlement of those around us. But we both agreed that the movie does a perfect job of staying true to Douglas Adams' wonderful original (Adams' books are so original and hiliarious that he practically defines the term original), while deftly using today's technology (and the Muppets) to update it.

Brit Arthur Dent (The Office's Martin Freeman) is having a very bad day. Bulldozers have arrived to tear down his house to make room for a bypass. Dent is busy blocking the dozers with his pajamaed self, when his best friend, Ford Prefect (played by Mos Def), shows up with a grocery cart full of beer to stall the workers. He then whisks Dent off to a nearby pub where he buys each of them three pints each, and explains that the world is going to end in 12 minutes. Dent isn't really grasping this, but when the world-ending Vorgons show up in huge intergalactic space ships and announce that Earth will be blown up to, ironically, make room for an intergalactic bypass, people are starting to catch on. Dent doesn't notice, so preoccupied is he about his house, but the people in the bar ask if they should lay down on the floor and put paper bags over their head. "Sure, if you want," Ford says. As the world comes to its promised end, there are the barflies, lying on the floor, paper bags on heads, for really no apparent reason other than that’s apparently what people in mass suicide cults seem to do. So runs Adams' humor.

Ford grabs himself and Dent a ride on the Vorgon spaceship, and then explains that he's not really from Earth, but in fact a writer for the galaxy's best-selling book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which contains the answers to everything, even though most of those answers are quite useless. (For example, when Ford asks the Guide how to save someone from the Vorgons, it says "don't bother." And so forth.)

That begins a long space journey for Dent, throughout all of which he remains in his slouchy pajamas and terrycloth robe, while Ford stays clean as a whistle in a white suit. They soon hook up with the President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, played whimsically by Sam Rockwell who takes the opportunity to cleverly mock current President of the Galaxy George W. Bush, as well as Dent's would-be girlfriend, Trillian, who was whisked away from him back in England when Zaphod decided to drop in on Earth and crash a London party.

("What did he have that I don't have? Two heads?" Dent asks Trillian. "A spaceship," she responds.)

The coolest part of the movie is when Dent and his guide for the moment, Slartibartfast, tour the mythical Planet Magrathea where planets are constructed. I don't know how they did this scene back in the late 70s and early 80s when the BBC made The Guide into a TV series, but with modern movie-making techniques, this scene was amazing. Dent and Slarti zip past planets under construction, mounted in a massive intergalactic sound stage, and when they reach Earth, workers are spraying water to make oceans, painting canyons red and landscaping houses.

The performances don’t really stand out, which is I why I didn't rate the movie higher. The actors do a fine job, but it's just way too hard to make something new of characters that rabid Guide fans already know far too well. To get too crazy would disappoint too many people, and that limits the actors' choices.

John Malkovitch shows up randomly as a spider-like preacher-man, essentially playing himself as always, and Alan Rickman mellifluously voices Marvin, the depressed robot.

Freeman as Dent and Def as Ford are perfectly cast. Zooey Deschanel as Trillian gets the most leeway, because if Ashley and I remember correctly, Trillian was a dopey blonde in the BBC original.

The thing that will always be best about The Guide is Douglas Adams' original concepts and his random humor, and this movie is successful because it remains so true to them. That's largely because Adams collaborated with Executive Producer Robbie Stamp until Adams' early death of a heart attack in 2001, so the film doesn't veer too far away from his vision. Spike Jonz (Being John Malkovitch, which may explain the actor’s appearance) was asked to direct this film, but he declined, recommending two English music-video directors instead. The pair of Hammer and Tongs, otherwise known as Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, took the movie over and did an admirable job in their first feature film venture.

I wanted to use martini glasses as my star system, but this blog doesn't support symbols so I'm giving The Guide three and a half asteriks (what it does support) out of a potential five. I think Ashley would give it a full five. I asked her to write her own review and she said: "Brilliant!" and tottered off to make drunk phone calls. So that may be it from her.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: ***1/2. A lot of fun.

Springtime in Boulder

Occasionally means blizzard. Bummer for me, who would be happy in 115 degrees in Miami, but great for all the skiiers. The ski lifts may never close!

Boulder today:

Winter returns -- April 29 Posted by Hello

Boulder just a few days ago:

Spring hiking on April 23Posted by Hello

tulips on the mall Posted by Hello

Boulder Theatre -- the best place in town to catch a movie or a band Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Book review: Garlic and Sapphires

When I was a little girl, reading was my favorite thing. I would while away hours at a time, my nose deep in a book, my brain somewhere else completely. To me, reading was better than TV, better even than the movies.

These days, older, not much wiser and much more distracted, I often long for nothing but an airplane or a beach so I can devour a book cover to cover, so quickly that it's a miracle I remember it at all. But there's very few books that convince me to surrender my whole weekend to it and a comfy chair.

Ruth Reichl's three memoirs - Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples and now Garlic and Sapphires - are those sorts of books for me. Reichl writes real life so that it feels like fiction, and her lush but simple prose about food makes me want to do nothing but eat.

Here's her description of water: "I tipped the liquid into my mouth and it was instantly flooded with icy coldness and a deep, ancient flavor, as if the water had come bubbling up from the middle of the earth." Some have said Reichl can be a little overzealous, and maybe that's true, but don't you long for a deep, cold drink of water right now? And I don't even like water.

In Garlic and Sapphires, one of the first restaurants Reichl reviews in her new post as the restaurant critic for the New York Times is Honmura An, a now-famous Japanese noodle house in Manhattan. About the restaurant's soba noodles, Reichl writes: "The noodles are earthy and elastic, soft and slightly firm to the tooth, and when you dip them into the briny bowl of dashi it is as if land and sea were coming, briefly, together."

After reading that, I have had an insatiable yen for noodles, a dish I love, but repeated visits to Noodles & Co., a Boulder chain restaurant, have not cured me. Mainly because everything I've had there that actually involves noodles sucks, frankly, although the non-noodled mixed grill is good.

Reichl's clear adoration of food explains why she went from obscure food critic at a small San Francisco weekly to the restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times to the country's most powerful dining critic. The Grey Lady's snobby climate got to even Reichl, and she moved on to head Gourmet Magazine in April 1999, making it into a gorgeous monthly homage to food, wine, culture and the written word.

Like J.K. Rowling, another writer whose work I've inhaled, I can't quite put my finger on what makes Reichl's writing so compelling to me. Both women use simple sentences that convey exact but full meanings. You know Rowling delivers a precise image when you see the Harry Potter movies - every character from Harry to Hermione to Professor Dumbledore looks just as you imagined them. Reichl's books haven't been made into movies, but her goal is different. While Rowling is precisely describing characters and situations, Reichl's talent primarily is describing eating experiences. Having said that, she also creates memorable characters, and one wonders how much of them are real and how much of them are fiction. I'm always left wondering if the people she writes about end up insulted, dead, or so insulted that they died as a result.

Reichl's other books deal with her childhood and her eccentric parents, and then move on to cover her life in Berkeley cooking organic food in a commune in the 70s. Always she winds the food into stories, including her favorite (and always simple) recipes as part of the text.

The title of this book comes from Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot. Reichl's husband, TV news producer Michael Singer, cites it to her after a particularly horrible dinner with an unbearable food snob who won dinner with her at a charity auction. After Reichl behaves boorishly, lording her vast food experiences and knowledge over the self-described "food warrior," Michael walks out of the dinner at Windows on the World, feigning having had oral surgery that morning. Upon arriving home, Reichl questions her husband's abrupt departure. He quotes: "'Garlics and sapphires in the mud ...' I remember that when you got into this it was almost a spiritual thing with you. You love to eat, you love to write, you love the generosity of cooks and what happens around the table when a great meal is served. Nothing that went on last night had anything to do with that. ... There must be better ways to give," he says. "Don't give yourself away."

When I was Broadcasting & Cable's Los Angeles Bureau Chief, I thought a lot about how people treated me a certain way because of what I could or could not (or would or would not) do for them. Now that I am not in that position, those relationships have changed, as I expected they would. Reichl allowed herself to get caught up in the power of the country's most powerful paper, as anyone would. When she finally realized the pressure and the false power was turning her into a person she didn't like, she knew it was time to move on.

Reichl has lived a rich life, and done us a favor by capturing it on paper. But what annoys me is that she spends her whole life eating and remains slim. She told in 1996: "I think I have a very good metabolism. I haven't gained or lost weight for years. I think it's partly that I'm not obsessed with it. I eat what I want. I probably eat a lot more when I'm cooking for myself, because I'm making exactly what I want made to my taste."

If I were a restaurant critic, I would certainly weigh 400 pounds. Definitely proof that life is not fair, or that some people are better suited to restaurant criticism than others. (Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, 328 pages, The Penguin Press, $24.95)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Making money on Rob and Amber

Here's a link to my latest story in the New York Post's TV Week: Why We Hate Rob and Amber.

It's a coincidence that I ended up writing about reality TV's hottest (and now married) couple, when I recently blogged on the same idea. But the TV Week editor happened to call me up and ask me to take on that topic, so I happily agreed.

But I have to admit that I'm back to rooting for them. Even though they were bastards for driving past the Jeep, well, it is just a game ...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Bush and the media

Right-wingers think the liberal media have dictated the press for far too long, and they hate Clinton for the questionable choices he made in his personal life. I think, however, that the way the Bush regime is working to control the media (and then acting like the media have no relevance to them) is far more disturbing. This administration is completely ignoring the First Amendment; in fact, they are constantly working to undermine it. To me, the ability to know what is actually happening within the government my tax dollars support affects the quality of my life far more than knowing who is doing Clinton in the Oval Office. Eric Alterman's excellent piece at The explains all this. Go there to learn a little something.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Schiavo memo surprise? Not so much

Are all these newsies breathlessly reporting the "discovery" of a memo describing how Capitol Hill Republicans planned to use the Terri Schiavo case for political gain actually surprised? Are these people really this naive? Where's that hard-boiled cynicism these reporters are supposed to have developed by now? Wasn't advancing the Republican agenda the point of the whole endless thing, from which we were only saved by the death of the pope, which is also dragging on interminably? (Do I really need to see his 84-year-old corpse 65 times a day? People who really want to see that are camping out at the Vatican -- so we can assume the rest of us are okay with missing it. In fact, maybe some news organization should set up a temporary digital news channel to cover the pope and his funeral and so on so the 10 billion of us in the world who are not Catholic and don't care one freakin' whit can get on with our lives.) Anyway, didn't right-wingers keep Terri Schiavo on the front-burner so they could keep framing the debate on right-to-life issues in their favor? That's what I thought anyway.

So my reaction to this news that a staffer for Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) authored a memo that called the Schiavo case a "great political issue ... and a tough issue for Democrats" is ... who the hell cares? The poor guy, senior legal staffer Brian Darling, has since resigned, a pariah to the Republican cause. Um, hello, there's no way Sen. Martinez and his Republican counterparts weren't having this conversation. Maybe they didn't want it published by ABC News, The Washington Post and the Associated Press (by means of a memo assuredly delivered unto those prestigious news organizations by a lucky Democratic staffer who found a draft in a trash can somewhere and ran as quickly as possible to the phone) but they were certainly discussing all along how to turn Terri Schiavo into a political cause celebre.

That's what this story was all about. Schiavo long ago stopped being a brain-dead individual fighting for her right to lay in a hospital bed forever more and became a political issue, a way for Republicans to draw very bright lines on where they stand on these so-called right-to-life issues. That way of thinking - done best by Karl Rove - won George W. Bush the election. Republicans managed to turn San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's attempt to do something nice for his many gay constituents by letting them get married into a major, divisive, election-day issue. At that moment, the election -- very helpfully for the Rs -- stopped being about the war and the morass it has become and started being about moral values. And when that happened, a little more than half the country (and more than enough) had no choice but to vote their conscience. Their God and their religion demanded nothing less. I can't blame those people for standing up for what they believe - I'm just saying that the Republicans are experts at taking over the debate and using it in their favor. Meanwhile, the Democrats barely play defense to Republicans' Super-Bowl worthy media offense, and their offense never leaves the locker room. That's possibly out of sheer terror, but it's all to the Democrats' great disservice and disempowerment. Air America isn't the answer, by the way, and Jon Stewart can't and doesn't want to solve the Democrats' media disconnect by himself.

Besides using Terri Schiavo as a Republican branding campaign, the Schiavo case also represents another chapter in the Republican Party's long-standing effort to brand liberals as anti-life, or more recently and more brutally, pro-death. That's pretty ironic if you think about it. Somehow the Republicans have managed to make liberals -- people who are typically anti-death-penalty, anti-war and pro-gun- control -- pro-death. But having said all that, liberals want choice for women, and that means death for unborn embryos, so that's pro-death. No big deal that most of those "saved" children will go into the welfare system that Republicans don't support, and later into a public education system that Republicans also don't support. No worries! Without much of an education, these kids will end up signing up for the Army where they can later die in Republican-led wars. Problem solved. In fact, maybe that's the secret reason why right-wingers are anti-choice - maybe they fear that with choice we won't have enough displaced people willing to go abroad and die in Republican-endorsed wars. But anyway, sure, it's those crazy liberals that are pro-death. Actually, I think they are just pro-death with regard to certain Republicans and radio talk show hosts.

When a story like Terri Schiavo or Elian Gonzales or even gay marriage shows up in the news and won't go away, assume anyone that can -- Rs and Ds -- is using it for political gain. That's how the system works. What's more important is who plays that game most successfully -- because that's who holds the power.

And for another, but similar, opinion on this subject, check out Eric Boehlert's piece at .