Fear

15 Jan

It starts as a shudder, a dawning

Realization of

Impossibility

The door closing,

The window, swinging shut

The horizon, extending ever further

And further beyond

Suffocation,

Air whistling and hissing as it escapes

The room

Trapped inside as things close in,

Get smaller and smaller and smaller

And all you can do

Is cower

In fear

Moonlight: A Dissent

23 Dec
Moonlight

Moonlight

I was eager to see “Moonlight”, after reading so many rave reviews. It is being hailed as the best movie of the year by many critics, who call it a masterpiece and a revelation. Such praise places high expectations on a new movie. So I watched it with eagerness, and there were aspects of it that I loved. But there was one key aspect that I didn’t like, and which kept me from fully embracing it.

First, what makes the film moving: the acting. No Best Actor or Best Actress statues will be given to any of the actors from “Moonlight”. It is truly an ensemble piece, which makes sense given that the movie is all about a handful of key people who revolve around the protagonist, Chiron- three individuals who believe in him and support him, and his mother, a mercurial crack addict. No man is an island, and Mahershali Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monae do fine work- especially Ali, whose Juan says so much with a glance, a weary look. Kevin, the friend who knows Chiron from childhood to manhood, is expertly played by three different actors. And the three actors who play Chiron illustrate his interior life with their sad eyes, their hunched figures, their sullen faces. Look at the picture that accompanies this post.

But this is where my main criticism lies. The actors playing Chiron rely so heavily on physically manifesting the character in their faces and bodies because they are not given much dialogue. Chiron is practically written as a mute. Rather than think this is a profound statement of how alienated he is, I saw it as a cop out. Someone who is neglected and lonely throughout childhood will certainly not socialize like a normal boy, but he could act out. Rant. Rave. Be awkward and make weird jokes that fall flat. Talk back to his mother. He could confide in one person, and have a moment to reveal something about himself. But because he is so underwritten, we get no sense of his interiority. We only see this wounded soul with sad, puppy dog eyes, but nothing is revealed about him. For most of the movie, we see someone who is barely present in his own life. It is deeply touching to see others reach out to him, especially in the last scene. But I was frustrated at how opaque Chiron remained throughout.

 

Top 5 Movies of 2016

18 Dec
La La Land

La La Land

It’s time for my annual review of movies that I saw this year that I found particularly funny, enjoyable, insightful, moving, or otherwise memorable. 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year; these movies made things better for the two hours of their running time. Who knows what future generations will make of the movies released during this last year of Obama’s presidency: are they the relics of a dying culture, a burst of creative energy before our society fell in 2017? Who knows what this list will look like next year. But here are my favorite movies from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Midnight Special: I argue that this is a better first contact movie that the over-hyped “Arrival”: more spectacular, more thrilling, more human and more urgent than the one in which Amy Adams teaches heptapods the rudiments of English grammar. “Midnight Special” starts with a bang, as we see a boy, wearing goggles, taking off in the night with two grown men. They are fleeing- but from whom? The movie is tautly paced, tossing clues out to the audience slowly but surely so that we may put the pieces together about who the boy is, and why he is so desperately sought by a religious movement and the government. The score is spare and haunting, the acting is superb, notably Adam Driver, Michael Shannon, and the young Jaeden Lieberher as Alton, the young boy whose special powers are at the heart of the movie.

A Hologram for the King: I enjoyed the Dave Eggers book that this movie was based on, but didn’t think that it’s meandering plot lent itself to a film adaptation. But I was happy to be proven wrong when I saw this movie starring Tom Hanks, who has had a knack in this latter half of his career for playing decent men in extraordinary circumstances (Captain Philips, Sully). But here he plays an ordinary man who finds himself in an extraordinary place: the Saudi Arabian desert. Tasked with landing the biggest pitch of his life and making a sale to a Saudi prince, he ends up feeling free being so far from home. He strikes up a friendship with a local driver and begins a flirtation with a doctor. This isn’t the “Lost in Translation” version of being far from home and alienated; this is the liberation of becoming a newer, fuller version of oneself in a distant place. It’s a lovely little film.

The Girl on the Train: This is the rare case of a movie being better than the book. I read the novel earlier this year, and was disappointed in the flimsy plot, since I was expecting something akin to Gone Girl. Well, “The Girl on the Train” proves to be an effective thriller, while also serving as an effective showcase for Emily Blunt. Academy voters will most likely forget about her performance come award season, but she plays a tricky role- alcoholic, desperate, obsessive- and deserves to be recognized.

Southside with You: This movie will feel even more bittersweet as the Obama years fade into memory, I imagine. I already felt nostalgic when watching it this summer, an intimate story of two young, black professionals falling in love over the course of one long, first date….and those two young people are Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson. “Southside with You” takes its time, lingering over the hesitant face of Michelle as she opens herself to her confident, assured suitor. We witness the spectacle of two people getting to know each other through conversation, and it is a joy to behold.

La La Land: Unlike the movie described above, “La La Land” gives us the chance to see a young couple fall in love not so much through long conversations, but through song and dance and visual spectacle. And what a spectacle it is. It is gorgeous, with clever nods to French new-wave cinema and classic Old Hollywood musicals, while still being entirely original. This is the rare musical that has you humming the original tunes as you leave the theater, the sure sign of a good musical (can you sing any tune from “Wicked”?). But “La La Land” is more than a musical: it is a love story and a story about the age-old conundrum of safe career paths vs bold creative choices. What if one’s creative dreams clash with one’s pursuit of true love? That is the story told here in loving detail, expertly directed by Damien Chazelle. It’s because of movies like this that we go to the movies.

Dishonorable mention: Hail Caesar. Sadly, I have to call out the Coen Brothers’ “Hail Caesar” for wasting two hours of my life that I will never get back. This film might be enjoyable for old Hollywood aficionados who can guess the real-life inspirations behind the goofy cast of characters. But otherwise, I was left thinking…why? Why watch this movie? Why make this movie? It was all a story not worth telling, in my view.

Disrupt This Ad

6 Dec

When he spoke in front of a room of media professionals at Code/Media earlier this year, Gabe Leydon of Machine Zone, the mobile gaming giant, spooked the room with his view that brand awareness, CPM-based digital campaigns will soon go the way of the dodo. There is such a fondness among Silicon Valley types for disruption, or at least the appearance of disruption, that this seemed newsworthy. A young Turk taking on the dinosaurs. But Leydon’s experience with digital media buying at Machine Zone is not representative of the myriad needs of different brands and publishers across the web. To think his experience is universal would be a mistake.

Leydon talked about his company’s revenue model of in-app purchases within a mobile game. For the very particular product that he is selling, heavy advertising on Facebook has proved very successful. Machine Zone pays Facebook a click per install rate, and the more people install the app, the more people get hooked and pay for in-app purchases, which is where the real money is made. Fine. But not all advertisers are Machine Zone; their objective isn’t installs or in-app purchases, but the purchase of flights to new airline routes, or a public awareness campaign to sign up for healthcare, or a sale on stylish sunglasses. The aforementioned examples are just some that I remember from my days running ad campaigns on display, mobile and video. Different advertisers have different goals. Installs are not the only metric that matters. Far from it.

In the talk, Leydon also indicated that publishers avoid quantifying their media, that they are all in on the racket.  That is simply not borne out by my experience. What I found when working with publishers is that they are often not as knowledgeable as they need to be about how to earn money online. Publishers are not the enemy; along with Leydon, I blame ad tech. There are always studies showing that bots make up a huge proportion of web traffic. Moat recently made the New York Times with its new product offering, a traffic verification tool. I worked at an ad network that sought to be transparent by using Moat’s technology. But in this age of programmatic buying, transparency and quality fall by the wayside. Digital advertising provides so many more opportunities for advertisers to glean insights into consumers, to create partnerships with publishers, to sell products effectively. I wholeheartedly support more transparency and efficiency in online advertising. Can a one-stop shop really handle the creation, placement and trafficking of online campaigns? Is Leydon’s insistence on disrupting online media buying prophetic or shortsighted? I am reminded of the saying “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” One company’s needs do not represent the trends of the rest of the industry.

 

 

A Moral 9/11

16 Nov
Awful Trump

Awful Trump

Thomas Friedman articulated my feelings after last Tuesday so well: the election of Donald Trump is a moral 9/11. Except the only difference is that the damage from 9/11 was inflicted from outside, whereas we did this to ourselves.

Sometimes it takes a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist to articulate what we are feeling. The fact that Trump’s victory represents a self-inflicted wound. It means that rather than looking at the Obama years as a shining moment in American history, we will look at it as just a period of calm between the W years and the Donald years. It is proof that Americans learned nothing from the Bush years. We watched as a thoroughly unprepared man tiptoed into the White House and proceeded to surround himself with Batman villains that toppled the economy and started two simultaneous ground wars in the Muslim world and thought, how can we go lower?

One reason that November 8th, 2016 feels like 9/11 is that we will all recall where we were when we realized that Donald Trump would succeed Barack Obama as President. When we realized that the campaign of Yes We Can was replaced with America First. When those of us who are not rural, white men realized that millions and millions of our fellow citizens had no problem affirming a campaign of white nationalism and wanton cruelty. Speaking of wanton cruelty, contemplate the picture that accompanies this post. Donald Trump is mocking a disabled journalist. Why was that not a thoroughly disqualifying moment? The fact that it was treated as a non-issue by the media- just another gaffe by wacky Trump- should have been the first sign that  nothing would stick to him. The Republican party saw what an incompetent hateful sociopath they were dealing with…and yet they chose to step aside and let him take over their party. Why? Because they thought he was an empty vessel that they could control. They decided they were okay with a candidate who would rip apart the social fabric of America and make our country’s diversity an issue to be contested rather than a simple fact of our society. And it turned out to be a winning strategy.

I’m sad and angry. Feelings of resignation alternate with feelings of rage. I’m angry that there have been at least 400 documented incidents of hate and intimidation in the last WEEK alone. That is only incidents that have been reported to date. I try to overcome my fear by speaking out, but I admit, I’m scared. I’m glad I tweet under a pseudonym. Although I look pretty white for someone of my background (call me an undercover minority), I still am fearful for myself and others, like my family and my friends who stand out more than I do. I am angry as hell that widespread fear for our safety is the result of a presidential election. It bears repeating over and over and over again: this is not normal.

This is a moral 9/11. We did it to ourselves.
http://content.jwplatform.com/players/JuufWlrh-EAYoNgFe.html

Fear and Loathing in 2016

16 Oct
Trump

Trump

In 2008 Barack Obama emerged to be elected President of the United States. Now, in 2016, a truly vile man seeks to succeed him as leader of this nation.

The hope and optimism of 2008 seem more and more like a distant dream. Optimism? Sarah Palin (remember her?) spoke derisively of ‘hopey-changey’ stuff. She was the asterisk to the hope of the Obama campaign, the one sour note of that joyful year in politics. But the rancor of the 2016 presidential campaign shows that she was not a bug of the Republican party. She was a feature.

I was an American who was inspired by candidate Obama’s call for unity, his rhetoric of not a red America, or a blue America, but a United States of America. Bill Maher once said he was tired of politicians hailing the heartland, wondering why people from the rural center of the country were considered more American than those of us from cities and suburbs from other parts of the country. Obama’s campaign gathered those of us who didn’t come from the amber waves of grain and reminded us that we too are America. His effort at inclusion wasn’t just geographic, uniting all regions of the country (minus the Southeast), but also racial, making those of us who are not of WASP-descent feel like an equally vital part of this nation. If the biracial candidate with African and white roots, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, and had a last name as uncommon as mine, could unite the country and reach the highest office in the land, anything truly seemed possible. We had always learned that anyone could grow up to become President of the United States. He represented the best in us, and he gave me, and many others, immense hope.

So it is important to remember the good feeling that prevailed eight years ago in order to appreciate how horrid things are now. All of the optimism is gone. I, a descendant  of immigrants, have been made to feel in the current political climate that I am less than some of my fellow citizens. Rather than inspire the better angels of our nature, the presidential candidate of the opposition party fuels hate. The election is rigged, he warns, not because sinister forces conspire to steal the election, but because some citizens, his followers believe, are less legitimate than others. They- Arabs, Mexicans, women, Asians, African-Americans- aren’t “real” Americans like we are, so their votes don’t count as much as ours do, their thinking goes. We have to watch the polls to make sure they don’t do anything fishy, they protest. It is terrifying for all citizens of good conscience to watch half of our country descend into the fever swamps of hate. 2008 was a season of unity and hope. 2016 is a season of division and anxiety. It has clarified for me, like no history lesson ever did, an understanding of 1930’s Italy and Germany. I just hope that the hate sown by Donald Trump doesn’t give way to violence. I hope.

Dónde Comer y Tomar en la Ciudad de México

11 Sep
Chaibar

Chaibar

Solo viví en la Ciudad de México (otroramente conocida como el Distrito Federal) durante diez meses, pero en ese plazo corto, me gustaba explorar mi colonia, la Condesa, y la colonia aledaña, la Roma. Por esa razón esta lista tiene un sesgo por esas áreas. Abajo encontrarán algunos de los locales que extraño y que felizmente visitaría en el futuro.

Chaibar– Ubicado a unos metros del Parque México, Chaibar significa mucho para mi. En el principio, cuando no conocía a mucha gente en mi nueva ciudad, y mas adelante, tras un día laboral intenso y estresante, Chaibar servía como mi refugio. Los empleados siempre eran amables y abiertos, y crearon un ambiente cálido que atraía a la gente día y noche. El chai es cremoso y sabroso, hecho con ingredientes naturales y leche de soya, con tres opciones posibles- té negro, té de limón, o campechano, una mezcla de los dos. A mi siempre me gustaba el campechano. Chaibar es un buen lugar para tomar tu te y mirar el mundo pasar.

Libreria El Péndulo– Es una cadena de librerías que se denominan “cafebrerías”, con restaurantes en las premisas. La que está en la Condesa, en calle Nuevo León, donde me gustaba desayunar los fines de semana, cuenta con músicos en vivo los sábados por la mañana. Hay una cosa que siempre pedía para desayunar, los Huevos Macondo. Era un desayuno con sabor muy mexicano, con un huevo frito encima de una quesadilla llena de quesillo, huitlacoche y flor de calabaza, cubierto de salsa verde. Acompañado por un café o jugo, y sobretodo con un buen libro, es una buena forma de comenzar el fin de semana.

Jalil Sabor a Hogar

Jalil Sabor a Hogar

Jalil Sabor a Hogar– Visité este restaurante en Roma Norte poco después de su inauguración, y de pronto entablé uan amistad con los dueños, quienes fueron muy sorprendidos cuando les dije que soy libanesa. Pero si mi cara no les convencía de mis orígenes, mi afinidad por su comida lo hizo. Pedir el plato libanés, un surtido de comidas distintas, es la mejor forma de probar todo en un solo lugar. Aunque las hojas de uva rellenas nunca han sido mi comida favorita, me encanta las que preparan aquí, llenas de arroz y carne y bañados en aceite de olivo. Eso, y el kipe crujiente (la cosa en forma óvalo en la foto), eran mis favoritas, aunque en realidad todo es rico.

Helado Obscuro– Vine una noche con una amiga, y cuanto más nieve comimos, mas borrachas nos pusimos. Aquí sirven nieve con licor, y con MUCHO licor. Unos ejemplos de los sabores que ofrecen son absenta y frambuesa o Kahlua chocolate. También vale la pena ir por la música y el ambiente 100% hipster.

Gourmart– Los dueños de este restaurante colombiano modesto en la Roma Norte siempre te saludan con una sonrisa. Tienen una carta sencilla, con solo dos opciones de comida de lunes a viernes. El café colombiano es una buena forma de comenzar el día, fuerte pero nada amargo, y por la tarde las mejores opciones son el  sancocho, un guisado que lleva pollo desmenuzado, elote, rajas de aguacate, una salsa no picosa, y arroz, y el sudado de albondigas, que son albondigas bañadas en una salsa de jitomate y cebolla- todo servido con una arepa al lado. Esta comida es muy buena para el alma cuando hace frío.

Rosetta

Rosetta

Rosetta– Tenía ganas de conocer este restaurante desde que leí noticias sobre ello antes de llegar a México, y por eso pensé que cenar en Rosetta sería una buena forma de festejar mi cumpleaños. Y cuando llegamos esa noche lluviosa, no me decepcionaron. El ambiente es íntimo, y no es de sorprender, ya que el restaurante ocupa una casa porfiriana en la Roma Norte. La gastronomía es italiana con un toque mexicano. Recuerdo un pan divino, crujiente por afuera y con una masa esponjosa por dentro, un primer plato de hinojo frito, y una pasta hecha con un ragú jugosa con sabor a ajo. Para resumir, lo recomiendo para cualquier ocasión especial.

Riviera del Sur– He ido a este restaurante/bar en la Roma Sur varias veces con varios amigos, y siempre me ha gustado por su buena comida yucateca. La sopa de lima es como una sopa de tortilla pero mas sencilla, los kibis son muy parecidos al kipe libanés, y los tacos de cochinita pibil son una rica forma de consumir el puerco (sobre todo si te gusta lo dulce). La Riviera es amplio y tiene un ambiente amigable, así que es un buen lugar para pasar el tiempo con amigos.

Mercado Roma

Mercado Roma

Biergarten– En la azotea de Mercado Roma, un mercado a la moda donde hay puestos que venden todo, de los sandwiches vietnamitas a las paletas, Biergarten es un bar de cerveza inspirado por los mismos que se encuentran en Alemania. Te da la oportunidad de disfrutar de una buena cerveza al aire libre. La carta de comida tiene buenas opciones, y si la cerveza no es lo tuyo, los ‘smashes’ son una buena opción de cocteles.

Los tacos callejeros cerca de la  Sumesa, Calle Oaxaca y Avenida Álvaro Obregon. Es difícil describir este lugar porque es un puesto callejero sencillo, y tengo que recomendarlo sin ningún enlace, ni foto, ni una buena descripción de su ubicación. Espero que siga allí y que no haya cambiado. Hacen tacos con una variedad de rellenos, con frijoles pintos y papas fritas crujientes encima. Simplemente es lo mejor. Imprescindible comerlo con una botella de Coca Cola.

También cabe mencionar: Lardo, Temporal, Azul Restaurante