September 13th, 2008


Movies and a lack of social skills

I belong to a few organizations that hold movie screenings in order to "spread the love" and create some buzz. It's possible the buzz will be negative, but last week's movies were all winners:

"Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys" - I'd never seen any of Perry's work, but could not pass up a Moving Image-provided opportunity to attend the New York premiere of his latest. We were relegated to the far right side of the big theater at AMC Lincoln Square, but other than not being able to see the cast members in attendance, it was fine. Warrington Hudlin interviewed Tyler Perry first, and then we watched the movie, a drama of families, race, and corporate intrigue. Good storytelling.

"Burn After Reading" - I'm not a huge Coen Brothers fan, but when IFP offered this, of course I went. The theater was packed, and I'm not sure everyone got in. I really liked the movie, a sort of tongue-in-cheek spy thriller with interconnecting characters and plotlines (and some violence). The presence of George Clooney and Tilda Swinton echoed "Michael Clayton," and Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt were priceless as dim gym trainers. Great acting all around. My new favorite Coen Brothers movie. (Quibble: John Malkovitch is supposed to be Princeton '73 which worked fine for him, but his classmates looked way too old.)

"Ghost Town" - I RSVP'd through the TV org. for me and 2 guests, and never got a confirmation, but AOL status said my e-mail was opened so I figured it was OK. But when the organizer came down the line, she told me it was not OK and that she'd informed me I was on the waiting list. I never got this e-mail (nope, not in the spam folder). We were pulled from the line to wait with others in the same boat. Some guys checking in another group said they'd see if they had room when they were done. So it looked promising, and indeed we all got in. In the future, I'll have to make sure to reconfirm.

The movie was cute, with ghosts (reminiscent of "Truly, Madly, Deeply") and romance and Ricky Gervais as an ornery dentist I could not buy as a love interest.

"Towelhead" - Even though this showing at Tribeca Cinemas was probably just for IFP, I wanted to get there early. However, the subway was delayed and I ran in at 6:20, only to find there was a reception first and the movie was not until 7:30. Ack! A few people were familiar from past screenings, but I really didn't know anyone, didn't feel like socializing, and don't drink. I just wanted to see the movie. So I settled in at a banquette along the window, reading magazines and solving Enigma until it got too dark to see. There were platters (veggies?) but I didn't want to get up and then lose my seat. There was no clock, so after a suitable interval I went to the ladies room (and found it was 7:15), asked the guy what theater we were in (the larger one), and went there, finding several people waiting (including the lady who always does crosswords), and many seats already saved. So I could have avoided social awkwardness and sat in the theater.

The movie was written and directed by Alan Ball, and had some of the creepy suburban vibe of his "American Beauty." This coming-of-age story of a 13-year-old Lebanese-American girl was highly disturbing at times (I wished they'd made her 15, which still would have been disturbing. The actress was actually 18 at the time), and occasionally funny. Very strong acting. Ball, the two young stars, and the actor who played the father did a Q&A afterward. The best part of these Q&A's is not so much the content, but the excitement of seeing people live in front of you who you just saw onscreen.

More lack of social skills

My distant cousin the family historian had a cocktail party at the Yale Club, in honor of his sister visiting from Vancouver (and both their book releases). Both are in their 70s and I don't know them that well, much less their friends and family from the other side.

I couldn't cling to the hosts the whole time, and quickly learned I'm terrible at cocktail party chatter. I stood there uselessly next to my cousin's friends in the travel business. I'm not only not in the travel business, but I don't even like to travel. I then stood by the bar drinking water and eating hors d'oeuvres (only managed to get 1 Brie puff), and wondered if I should leave.

Then rescue came, as my cousin brought over his classmate and wife, who had seen and loved "Wordplay" (and had recognized me immediately). They read the Rex Parker blog, but had not heard of "IOUSA." Talking to them and a few others took care of the rest of the night. Whew.

I've been invited to a friend of a friend's book party where I'll know maybe 2-3 people. I'd like to see the 2-3 people without sticking to them like glue, but could fail miserably. I must have been absent when they taught Basic Mingling.

Puzzle events - no social skills needed

On Labor Day, nplchainsaw hosted a solving session/backyard BBQ of Zebraboy's extravaganza at his spacious new place in Brooklyn. Our group of mostly experienced NPLers couldn't get it all, but we still had fun trying. Hints and solutions are now up, so I maybe can finish.

Then there was Ryan & Brian's Lollapuzzoola August 23. I offered to edit the puzzles (available through previous link, so go solve if you don't want any spoilage), and wasn't sure they could pull off the event with the short lead time. I arrived at the church in Jackson Heights (site of the first Scrabble game, which was relevant to one of the puzzles) to find the room comfortably filled with 30+ people; any more and it would have been too crowded. I saw many familiar faces, and finally met Ryan, Brian, Puzzlegirl, and Amanda (who told me we'd previously met at an IFC "Wordplay" showing). Will even stopped by on his way to table tennis.

I had strongly suggested Pleasantville-style scoring (first correct puzzle wins the round) but R&B wanted each contestant to get a score, so devised an original system. Unfortunately, this counted correct and incorrect letters instead of words, and could have been a nightmare. Luckily, the volume was manageable and contestants helped grade after they were done.

The atmosphere was casual and light. Contestants received 10 "Google tickets" that could be used to request answers after half the time had elapsed. The lowest score was dropped, allowing constructor Mike Nothnagel to compete and just drop his own puzzle. The perfect paper bonus was small and the time bonus was basically 5 points more than the person behind you and so on, so even an expert solver like Howard Barkin would not necessarily slaughter the competition (though he did win).

Other quirky features included mandatory food after puzzle 2, a Twister game with the top solvers of puzzle 4, and musical clues in puzzle 5 (which can still be done without the clues). Puzzle 6 had a few harder clues for the top people at that point. The prizes were random stuff. People went out for Indian food afterward (I've learned that korma dishes are acceptably non-spicy) to end a pleasant day.

PhillySolver posted a detailed report.

(no subject)

I'm caught up on work for the moment, so can catch up on blogging.

I haven't gotten dressed today, but at least I successfully avoided a book sale at the library down the block. I don't need more books! Turns out the Strand Annex's lease was extended and it isn't closing until the end of September, so there's still time to do damage there.

Books I finished:

"Temple" by Robert Greenfield - This library book was renewed 3 times, and I raced to finish when it was due. Paulie stops drifting in Cambridge to return to his divorced parents and Holocaust survivor grandfather in Brooklyn (which felt like Queens). The plot is a bit slow, but there are rich descriptions of the local shul and the post office where his father works (and an excursion to a James Brown concert at the Apollo).

"The Good Wife Strikes Back" by Elizabeth Buchan - The wife of a member of Parliament has a midlife crisis and empty nest (except for her alcoholic sister-in-law, who won't leave), and wonders if she should start anew in her family's hometown in Italy.

Last Sunday I wasn't going to get dressed, but got an offer I couldn't refuse from N to attend the Italian Festival in Hoboken, with ringside terrace seats to the fireworks, and a concert by Shirley formerly of the Shirelles. We walked around the fair but didn't eat, as we were ordering pizza. The group (can't call them the Shirelles since another group member owns the name) did all their hits except "Dedicated to the One I Love." They might have done this while we were walking there or back (we could hear everything from the terrace, but there was other noise on the ground). Shirley looked great and sounded good, as long as she didn't go too high. The fireworks were spectacular. The pizza was good, and the garlic knot the best I've ever had. Then we listened to a good cover band, and played Boggle and the piano. Fun.