Five Songs
Published on February 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list the five new songs I'm currently enjoying.

Click here to see what they are.

Why Work More?
Published on February 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

I've long been an advocate for working less. The four-day work week sounds ideal to me. Shouldn't one of the advantages of living in the wealthiest country on earth be not having to work as much to make ends meet? Instead, we're constantly being told we have to work more, just to maintain our standard of living.

Anyway, in this interesting piece Peter Frase discusses the leftist vision of a post-work future. And it's pretty interesting! Basically, he believes that the goal should be less work and more leisure, rather than more work and less leisure. Which is how I feel, too! Why can't we have that?

Two Great Concerts
Published on February 27, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Tegan and Sara, and Sean Rowe.

Click here to read more.

Revisiting "Titanic"
Published on February 26, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent experience re-watching "Titanic" - a movie I sneered at in college.

Here's an excerpt:

"For a long time, I’ve been interested in watching 'Titanic' again. But I didn’t want to watch it on DVD, on a small screen. I wanted to see it on a giant screen.

I saw 'Titanic' in college, and I was not very impressed. I remember sneering my way through the whole thing, and marveling at a classmate who saw it a half dozen times — if my calculations are correct, this classmate devoted nearly 20 hours of her life to watching 'Titanic.' But after being impressed by director James Cameron’s vision in 'Avatar' and his 2003 documentary 'Ghosts of the Abyss,' in which he and a team of scientists explore the interior of the Titanic using two remotely-operated underwater vehicles, I wondered whether I might be more impressed with 'Titanic’s' scale and craft now that I’m older. So when I heard that Proctor’s was screening the film as part of the American Film Essentials series, I decided I had to go.

So how does 'Titanic' hold up? Overall, extremely well. It is not a perfect movie (what is?), and some of its flaws are pretty cringe-inducing, but the stuff that’s good is really good. Here are some of the things that struck me, right off the bat: Cameron doesn’t mind taking his time. His prologue, involving an elderly Rose and her connection to a mysterious drawing found in a safe on the sunken ship, could be a movie in its own right. And he takes the romance, between young Rose and Jack, slow as well. The film is the work of a filmmaker with real confidence, who is not going to be rushed, because he knows he has a good story to tell."

Click here to read more.

Oscar Predictions
Published on February 24, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my Oscar predictions.

Click here to read them.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on February 24, 2013 by Sara Foss

Dogtooth (2009) ***1/2

California Split (1974) ***1/2

Amour (2012) **1/2

Valhalla Rising (2009) **

Holy Mountain (1973) ****

Le Magnifique (1973) ***1/2

Photos Worth Seeing
Published on February 21, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about two very good local photo exhibits - one showcasing the photography of Gordon Parks, and the other featuring the work of a half dozen photojournalists.

Click here to read more.

An Interview With George Saunders
Published on February 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

I saw the short story writer George Saunders read tonight at the University at Albany, and he was fantastic.

Here's an interview with Saunders that The Awl posted earlier this week.

Also, here's a Salon piece on how there hasn't been a revival of interest in short fiction due to the Internet, despite the New York Times' claim that there is.

The Great Alligator Migration
Published on February 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

There's an interesting article over at Slate about how alligators are slowly moving north, due to climate change.

I really liked seeing alligators on my swamp tour of the bayou outside New Orleans, and on my trip to the Everglades, but I'd prefer they remain an exotic creature. In other words: I don't want them anywhere near me. The rattlesnakes on Tongue Mountain in Lake George terrify me - the last thing I need is a bunch of alligators roaming around the woods, too. Though I'm far enough north that I probably don't have too much to worry about. Unlike the people in Virginia, and D.C.

Watching "Amour"
Published on February 19, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new Michael Haneke movie "Amour."

Here's an excerpt:

"The Austrian director Michael Haneke specializes in wrenching experiences. Movies are not fun and games for him — they are opportunities to disturb, provoke, question and accuse, to expose the dark underbelly of society and strip away the thin veneer of civilization that tricks us into thinking we’re any better or different from animals.

At first blush, Haneke’s latest film, best picture nominee 'Amour,' seems to represent a new direction for the director. Most of his films are chilly deconstructions of violence, voyeurism and cruelty, but 'Amour' tells a simple, seemingly warm story, of aging, illness, love and death. It focuses on an octogenarian Parisian couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (best actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva), retired music teachers who live in an elegant and art-filled apartment, where they are occasionally visited by their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert). One day Anne becomes catatonic and unresponsive at breakfast; she undergoes surgery for a blocked carotid artery, but the surgery is not a success, and she returns home paralyzed on her right side. She makes Georges promise never to bring her back to the hospital, and expresses a desire to die before things get worse, and she becomes a burden.

As usual, Haneke’s directorial gaze is unflinching: We watch as Anne’s condition deteriorates due to a second stroke that leaves her speaking gibberish and moaning in pain. Georges struggles to get her to eat and drink, and becomes more and more isolated: He stops returning his daughter’s phone calls, and fires the visiting nurse. Because the opening scenes of 'Amour' showed firefighters breaking into the apartment and discovering Anne’s corpse on the bed, we have some idea where all this is headed, but there are a few surprises along the way: One especially powerful scene shows Georges losing patience with Anne’s reluctance to eat, slapping her, and then immediately asking for her forgiveness."

In the post, I also rant about a man who thought it was acceptable to check his phone and let it ring multiple times during the movie. The whole experience actually reminded me of this post from movie blogger Dennis Cozzalio, in which he writes about an idiotic woman who thought it was OK to text through a screening of "Frankenweenie."

Anyway, click here to read the whole thing.

Jeff Mangum, Live
Published on February 18, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review Saturday's Jeff Mangum concert at Mass MoCA.

Here's an excerpt:

"I didn’t get into the indie-folk band Neutral Milk Hotel until about five years ago, when their album, 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,' marked its 10th anniversary, and the Albany band Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned performed it from start to finish at Valentines. I’d heard very little about the album at the time of its release, but in the years since it had gained an enthusiastic cult following, and Sgt. Dunbar’s energetic tribute made me an immediate fan.

The more I learned about Neutral Milk Hotel, the more intrigued I became. In 2008, the online magazine Slate ran an article on Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum titled 'Jeff Mangum, the Salinger of indie rock' in which writer Taylor Clark described Mangum’s retreat from the public eye. Clark wrote that Neutral Milk Hotel, and its mysterious leader, had essentially disappeared, and that as 'Aeroplane’s legend began to build, Mangum kept himself busy by having a total nervous breakdown. Laura Carter, his then-girlfriend, told the Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing that he spent entire days sitting in his house in a state of near panic, wearing a pair of old slippers and doing absolutely nothing. He became paranoid, hoarding rice for the inevitable post-Y2K apocalypse.' This bleak period was followed by a period of rebuilding, Clark writes, in which Mangum traveled the world, spent time in a monastery, and released a disc of field recordings of Bulgarian folk music. His reclusiveness angered some of his fans, who felt that Mangum’s failure to release a new album and tour was unnecessarily depriving them of a great talent.

Well, over the past few years Mangum has slowly re-emerged, and is now in the midst of his first tour in years. I saw him Saturday at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass., where he played a solo set before a rapt audience. He was engaging and friendly, though I wouldn’t go so far as to describe him as gregarious or effusive, and sang and strummed guitar with intensity and passion, breathing new life into Neutral Milk Hotel’s beloved songs. These rollicking songs are both deeply weird — 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' is said to have been inspired by Anne Frank, and the lyrics are contain bizarre, almost surrealistic imagery. For instance, in the song 'Holland, 1945,' Mangum sings, 'The only girl I’ve ever loved/Was born with roses in her eyes/But then they buried her alive/One evening 1945/With just her sister at her side/And only weeks before the guns/All came and rained on everyone/Now she’s a little boy in Spain/Playing pianos filled with flames/On empty rings around the sun.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Rekindling My Love For Fiction
Published on February 18, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about reading "Billy Budd," and how it broke me out of my recent bad mood about fiction.

Here's an excerpt:

"My New Year’s resolution to read more hit an immediate speed bump when I decided it was time to read 'Billy Budd, Sailor,' Herman Melville’s unfinished novella.

'How hard will this be?' I thought to myself. 'It’s a novella!'

My expectations for 'Billy Budd' were quite high: I read 'Moby Dick' about five years ago and thought it was the greatest book ever. And I’m not being hyperbolic — I’m hard-pressed to think of a better book. Not that I’ve read every book, mind you. I still haven’t read 'The Brothers Karamazov' or anything by Proust. But I have read 'War and Peace,' 'Crime and Punishment' and 'Anna Karenina,' and I think 'Moby Dick' is the superior work.

Of course, reading 'Moby Dick' is no small task.

It took me about six months to get through 'Moby Dick,' and I celebrated this accomplishment by reading lots of short and easy books. I like literary challenges, but I needed a break after 'Moby Dick.' (I took similar breaks after 'War and Peace' and 'V' by Thomas Pynchon.)

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on February 17, 2013 by Sara Foss

Eyes Without A Face (1959) ****

Mama (2013) ***

Raise the Red Lantern (1991) ****

Why I'm Tired of Hearing About Why People Own Guns
Published on February 17, 2013 by Sara Foss

Since the mass shooting in Aurora over the summer, I've been noticing a lot of articles examining the various reasons why people own guns. I even thought about writing one myself - interviewing local gun owners, hearing them talk about why they own guns. But I've grown weary of these stories. They take great pains to explain the motivations of gun owners, but you seldom see such thoughtful stories explaining why people don't own guns. As I've tried to make clear, people who don't own guns are also making a lifestyle choice - one that often reflects the culture of their community or the family in which they were raised.

An article on gun ownership posted today by the Christian Science Monitor raised a number of red flags for me. My first problem was the headline, which makes a big assumption - that there's a misunderstood majority of gun owners. I'm not sure I believe this, and the article doesn't actually provide any evidence for this assertion. Even more bafflingly, the article opens with some dude named Nick Brinley waltzing into a state capitol with a loaded AR-15. "Instead of menacing the public, though, Mr. Brinley joined about 350 other gun enthusiasts waving signs saying things such as 'Don't mess with the Constitution, it ain't right – [signed] Me' to protest a post-Sandy Hook gun-control package being floated in Congress, and backed by President Obama."

For some reason, it doesn't seem to have occurred to the reporter that just the sight of a crowd of men wandering around a public square with loaded weapons might be menacing for some people. Like me. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't have any patience for open carry activists. If I saw someone wandering down my street with a gun, I would call the police. My main experience with guns stems from being mugged at gunpoint, and I'm not comfortable with strangers invading my space with their guns. In any case, someone like Nick Brinley is menacing to someone like me, despite the Christian Science Monitor's assessment that he isn't. In fact, I'd say that the article could actually use some perspective from a victim of gun violence - someone who might not be so impressed by a bunch of dudes carrying guns and "Don't Tread on Me" signs.


Top Reads of the Week
Published on February 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Music: Tony Are on the best of 2012, and Sara Foss on Passion Pit

Movies: Sara Foss on "Mama"

Food/Drink: Sara Foss on drinking coffee

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