Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autumnal Hiatus

Lately I've either been dug in deep...

Been bumping into things all over the place...

Or have just been hiding away from the world best I can.

But one way or ano
ther, I'll be back here soon to continue to wow you all with various pearls of wisdom, ranting, and hilarity.

Occasionally, all at the same time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Remember This Day

I remember this day. I remember it every year. I remember it every day. I remember it when I don't even realize that I"m remembering it.

I remember the sky, so very blue, so beautiful and clear. I remember the fast clip down the hall to my manager Carolyn's office. I remember her phone ringing as I entered and turned on her television. I remember the slow gather behind me as more co-workers filtered in. I remember the updates, the repeats, the shared shock. I remember seeing the North Tower tilt and saying "Guys? Guys?! Is the tower tilting?" and their response, "No, it's the camera that's tilted." I remember watching the camera right itself. I remember the plumes of smoke. I remember the shock of the second plane hitting the South Tower. I remember seeing that fireball live. I remember the next time the tower tilted. I remember that it wasn't the camera that time. I remember that my supervisor Sarah cried.

I remember the fear that NYC landmarks were under attack. I remember the strong voice of my vice-president directing us to leave. I remember hearing that the bridges and tunnels were closed. I remember the few e-mails and voice- mails that got through before communications broke down. I remember standing outside my office on 42nd Street. I remember Annette saying, "Come with us." I remember Sarah making sure I had a place to go.

I remember the surreal trek cross-town to Second Avenue. I remember feeling like I was on a movie set. I remember food carts with radios blaring as we crossed Madison Avenue. I remember the cell phones not working.

I remember the long downtown stretch of Park Avenue. I remember the glimpse of the pummel of smoke at its far end.

I remember being hungry. I remember stores being closed. I remember crowding into a corner pizzeria. I remember the first bite of hot and fresh pizza.

I remember saying that at least the planes were empty.

I remember having to be told that there were passengers on those planes.

I remember walking back cross-town from Second Avenue to Tenth Avenue to reach the ferry. I remember the closed stores - stores that are never closed - McDonalds, Duane Reede, CVS. I remember being thirsty.

I remember the quiet.

I remember the lines of people waiting for the ferry stretching for 10 or 20 blocks in either direction.

I remember the clothes I was wearing.

I remember trekking back to Second Avenue to spend the night at Annette's. I remember buying food and wine later that night. I remember finally reaching my family on the phone. I remember waking up throughout the night. I remember getting a foot cramp and pushing my foot against the wall to relieve it, hoping I wouldn't wake Annette up.

I remember voices outside the window early in the morning. I remember hearing them speak about giving blood and volunteering. I remember walking to the Path Station at 34th street.

I remember it still being so quiet.

I remember trying to find the right bus at Hoboken Station. I remember an obnoxious, unhelpful bus driver. I remember searching each street as we got into Weehawken, afraid I would miss the stop, unfamiliar with that part of town. I remember getting off too early. I remember more walking. I remember finally getting home. I remember seeing my cats and flopping on my bed. I remember my roommate being home and safe.

I remember the many phone messages from across the country. I remember returning calls. I remember the relief in the voices of everyone I called. I remember being afraid to turn off the television.

I remember going back to work on September 13th.

I remember my father telling me of our friends lost on United 93.

I remember the RISE UP billboard on the helix coming up from the Lincoln Tunnel. I remember hearing Bruce Springsteen's song in my head every time I looked on it. I remember latching on to that every day. I remember the Empire State Building lit up in red, white, and blue. I remember the day it went back to its regular gold. I remember that I couldn't think of what it was meant to represent; I'd become so accustomed to red, white, and blue, I no longer recognized normal.

I remember when the billboard went back to advertisements.

I remember, that February, climbing the stairs from the subway at Ground Zero for the first time and not knowing where to go. I remember all my landmarks being gone. I remember the Red Cross tent. I remember the firefighters from the House of Pain. I remember the laughter. I remember the camaraderie.

I remember crunching debris beneath my feet as a worker lead me, my college roommate Kerry and her husband Matt, an OSHA inspector, onto the sight. I remember trying to visualize the place where I'd work, trying to see Century 21, the Borders bookstore whose opening I'd attended, or Tall Ships pub, and failing. I remember gazing on the empty hole where my career had begun, where my first professional milestones were made, and feeling deeply bereft.

I remember the deep ache in my bones and my feet from the work serving the workers.

I remember listening to radio on every anniversary. I remember hearing the listing of names on the radio as I drove to work. I remember the bells, the moments of silence, the tears, the strength, the continuation of life. I remember watching the live feeds on the Internet. I remember doing this every year.

I listen to them now, recalling these memories. A recitation of names that closes my throat. A memorial of sacrifice.

I've heard it said that New York doesn't allow survivors to forget 9/11.

Thank God for that.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Movie Mondays - Lust, Caution

Welcome to the premiere of Movie Mondays.

I figure the title is self-explanatory enough.

I'm a movie buff. I may not be able to deconstruct Kurosawa with a bunch of film geeks, but I do enjoy a better-than-average affinity for the entertainment industry. I don't get to the movie theater all that much any more so when I do, I try to choose the films I can't stand to miss (The Dark Knight) or update my Netflix queue with other, more obscure titles I want to see due to positive buzz (The Lives of Others). The does mean that I can be a few months behind things but that's just the beauty of Kiersten timing.

My relationship with Netflix has pretty much stalled in recent months as life had knocked me upside the head with Other Things that needed attention. But one rare (and slightly pathetic) Friday night when I was home alone with nothing to do (or, rather, too much I should be doing but wasn't) I picked up Lust, Caution from the local video shop (will we ever call it the DVD store? The Blue Ray Store? Hmm.)

Caveat: This is not a movie for anyone with a conservative bent. It is very sexually graphic.

Lust, Caution is director Ang Lee's most recent film and his first in many years (or ever?) in Chinese. It tells the story of Japanese-occupied Shanghai in World War II and a young woman, Mai Tai Tai, who goes undercover to seduce and set up Mr. Yee, a Japanese collaborator who is rather highly placed in the secret service.

So basically a Very Bad Dude.

Mai's mission is to set Mr. Yee up for
assassination but the more time she spends with him, the more conflicted her loyalties become. Will she betray him or will she turn on her resistance comrades to save his life? It evokes shades of Black Book, Paul Verhoeven's racy thriller during which a Jewish woman goes undercover in a Nazi command center as an Aryan secretary and eventual mistress to a high-ranking Nazi officer.

Further synopsis for Lust, Caution can be found on IMDB. Have at it.

Ang Lee shoots beautiful films - or rather his DOP does - but the end result is helmed by Lee. I still don't think he was the right man to direct Sense and Sensibility - I lay its pacing flaws firmly at his feet - and I wouldn't be nearly so fond of that film without Emma Thompson and Alan Richman, but it is beautifully shot and crafted. Brokeback Mountain is likewise stunning in its construction and Lee's lyrical sense of place, evidenced again in Lust, Caution, is breathtaking. (This doesn't however, translate to the beautiful mess that was The Hulk.)

Lust, Caution
itself resonates with a visual feast of colors and culture whose changing hues illuminate the changing circumstances of the characters. I particularly enjoyed the mahjong scenes with the high-ranking wives and how vicious and catty they could be under the veneer of social discourse, gossip, and game playing. A gathering of lazy lionesses sharpening their claws in a gilded cage.

But I never really engaged with this film and I think the fault lies predominantly on its leading lady.

Wei Tang, the actress playing Mai Tai Tai, gives a wooden performance that fluctuates between overblown dramatic distress and a blank slate expression with the occasional seductive gaze or sexually contorted facial features thrown in for irregular variety. She is our window into this world, our heroine, yet she had as much charisma as a dandelion. Except I like dandelions. She's beautiful, no question, and the clothes and fashions displayed on her slight figure are stunning period pieces, but outside of being a particularly pleasant clothes pole - nothing.

But what really ticked me off, and what has kept this film kicking around my head for weeks, is Mai Tai Tai's stupid, ridiculous, totally asinine choice at the end. It was somewhere around one AM when I finished the film and I literally said to (OK, yelled at) the television "That's it? You stupid twit!"

For a seven-carat, canary diamond ring, she betrays everything - AND THEY ALL DIE. What is the deal with that? She didn't even get to keep the ring!

The resistance fighters' plan was to kill Mr. Yee as he and Mai Tai Tai visit the jewelers to collect the ring he'd had commissioned for her. Overcome by her lover's presentation of this ring and its accompanying silent declaration of love, she confesses all with the single admonition "Run". At least in Black Book, the Nazi lover was honorable, working from inside the beast to aid its victims and countermand the worst of the power abuses by his colleagues. Ergo, the heroine's eventual love and consequential switching of loyalties make sense. Plus, she still doesn't betray her comrades. Here, Mr. Yee has virtually no redeeming qualities and displays some of his most vicious tendencies in the "love" scenes. But Mai is so overcome by her feelings for him that she betrays everything -and everyone - else.


It doesn't help that Mai's crack group of neophyte resistance fighters never show up for the actual killing. If there's one thing I hate, it's a delayed assassination. (To be fair, it's implied that they were rounded up by secret police before they could go through with it, but that just makes her choice even more ridiculous as she could have escaped before the police came for her.) Then the fool girl GOES HOME!! Because they'd never think to look for her there. (Did I mention she's living in Mr. Yee's house as a guest of his wife? Bloody brilliant.)

Next thing we know, Mai and all her friends and compatriots are being shot in the head.


Sure, we can extrapolate that the revelation of Mr. Yee's duplicity will lead to his own denouement, but Ang Lee chooses to leave that determination up to the viewer. Now I'm not opposed to an ambiguous conclusion, especially when it stimulates thought and conversation. I mulled over the layers of meaning in the conclusion to the movie The Prestige for days and talked it out with several people because my brain was just rocked. The revelations at the end changed my perspectives on all that had come before in the film and the more I thought about it, the more fascinated I became. It's brilliant, provocative storytelling.

This isn't.

I'm sure that Ang Lee has themes embedded in all of this that I'm just failing to fully realize, but that's because I cannot get past this girl's decisions. I have no sympathy for a heroine who not only can't bloody well keep herself alive with some fairly basic self-preservation - like Run Away! Or Don't Warn the Mark! - but her actions and frankly, weaknesses, kills all her friends along with her. Unforgivable. And worse, nothing overtly is gained from this "sacrifice". At least in something like 300 - extreme, cartoon-like (oops, sorry, graphic novel-like) execution aside - there was purpose and an overall triumph from their sacrifice (and the hot, sweaty, totally cut male bodies didn't hurt either.)

I love complex heroines. Frankly, I prefer them, and I suppose that Mai's weakness and ultimate failure can be seen as the complexity of her character; a woman with the strength and ability to subjugate herself to her role as femme fatale to achieve (in her eyes) a noble aim loses everything by succumbing to the magnetism and allure of her victim. But I'm still left with an overall response of You stupid twit.

I suspect, in the end, that may reveal more about me than it does the film.

Grade: D

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Two of a Kind

K: So, How you doin'?

Dad-Dad: OK. How are YOU doing?

K: OK. Why?

DD: Your aunt's being trying to reach you. She kept calling all day Labor Day. She was here and must have called you half a dozen times.

K: We were at a barbecue.

DD: Oh.

K: I left my phone in the car.

DD: Uh huh.

K: [sigh] I talked to her yesterday.

DD: Yeah? Well that's good. So, everything's okay?

K: Pretty much. My knee went out this morning. Totally random.

DD: Oh, no. Mine does that too. I can't turn left easily anymore without stumbling.

K: Well, if you used your cane, it would probably help with that.

DD: Cane slows me down.

K: It might be worth it to give your knee some support. Maybe it takes an extra few minutes to get down the hall, but your knee will thank you for it.

DD: Ah, it hurts my arm to use it.

K: Your arm will get used to it. You need to build up the muscle. Go down to the gym and lift some weights.

DD: Hey, I do 30 minutes on the treadmill three times a week.

K: Yeah, but that's your legs, not your arms.

DD: Oh. I do the chest press for them.

K: That's good. What about bicep curls?

DD: Oh, no. I can't do those.

K: OK, what about arm lifts? Lifting your arms up above your head?

DD: Oh, yeah, I do those when I'm sleeping.

K: [pause while visualizing] You do arm lifts in your sleep?

DD: Yeah.

K: [pause again] How do you know you do them if you're asleep?

DD: 'Cause I dream of it.

K: Just cause you're dreaming it doesn't mean you're actually doing it.

DD: Yeah it does.

K: How do you know? You're asleep!

DD: 'Cause I'm tired when I wake up.

K: [incredulously] From doing arm lifts?

DD: Oh yeah. Last week I dreamt I was in the Boston Marathon and I could hardly get out of bed.

K: laughing

DD: I came in second.

K: [still laughing] Who came in first?

DD: A black woman from Jamaica.

[Two-minute pause while both laugh]

DD: Hey, were you driving a truck the other day?

K: A truck?

DD: Yeah. A sand truck.

K: No. Why?

DD: A truck turned over up there speeding up the on ramp. Dumped sand all over the ramp.

K: Where?

DD: Up there. Warick, Wardwick, Walwick...

K: Waldwick?

DD: Yeah.

K: That's where I live, but I didn't hear of anything. There was a truck overturned on the ramp from 287N to 80W yesterday, but that was it.

DD: You weren't driving a sand truck?

Wasn't me, no sir, no way.

DD: You sure?

K: Pretty sure. See? I'm not the only one who does 90 mph on the on-ramps.

DD: Guess not.

K: We have a club.

DD: [laughing] Oh yeah?

K: We meet once a month and have races on on-ramps.

DD: How 'bout that.