Monday, July 31, 2006

Let's eat: Sor Tino

My dinner companion, J (accredited member of the Biffles Dinner Claque), protested when I said I was going to mention Sor Tino on the blog. "Don't tell them," she said.

But I found it hard to believe that a trattoria on Barrington just south of San Vicente hadn't been noticed, and I was right. Sister Sarah of The Delicious Life has of course already been there, so I was following in her footsteps. And a place that's related to Toscana and Ago can hardly be a secret, right?

In any case, Sor Tino's menu, sort-of-Florentine, is not astonishing, but the food is prepared with care and attention that does make it seem more Italian (the attention to detail, I mean). My handmade garganelli (like penne) were light-years away from pasta asciutta, that is, machine-made pasta: they were thin, delicate, and could convert me to buying a pasta machine. They were sauced with fresh peas, radicchio, and speck (a smoked meat. Biffles loves the products of the pig). I was telling a friend about this heavenly pasta and she said, must have been cream in the sauce, but oh, no! There was not. Yet it held together and was persuasively tasty.

So good that I didn't try J's arugula pizza. Looked great--she has tried most of the pizzas and has become an enthusiast. For starters, we split a salad that involved greens, yellow and red beets, and gorgonzola, a felicitous combo.

My principal complaint is that the waiter brought all our dishes at once; we'd explained that we'd share the salad, and then each have the pasta or pizza, as it were. But he didn't understand, and everything came out, whammo! at once.

Based on one visit--not as if I sampled the entire menu; it was still too hot outside to think about eating a proper entree--I'd say Sor Tino was good if one is in an Italian eating mode, or just wanting to be in Italy (many of the other diners were Italian). Prices are moderate enough, given the location and the presence of many more expensive Italian restaurants within walking distance. But give the waiter explicit instructions. When I go back, I just may draw him a chart.

Verdict: Won't change your life, but will make for several pleasant hours. I'll go back.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Let's eat: Lucky Devils

Comparisons are odious, as the saying goes. But after last Friday's Wagyu burger at bld, this Friday's Kobe burger (different name, same type of beef, they tell me) begs to be considered.

I like Lucky Devils. The menu is straightforward: burgers, salads, organic hot dogs in various modes of dress, and grilled cheese (!!!). Fabulous desserts, and ice creamy creations that are already well known. And a Beers of All Nations menu, as well.

The burger--with Maytag Blue and sauteed onions--is terrific....but the Wagyu at bld was more flavorful. The fries were crisp and hot, but I missed the pommes allumettes at bld. See, the Biffles Lunch Team member and I had a great lunch--she had a tasty spinach salad--it's just too bad we went to bld first.

The proprietor of Lucky Devils is actor, former Black Beret, and Diet Coke hunk Lucky Vanous. There he was, behind the counter, garnishing plates and looking great. But if he had shot a grin my way, or even better, circulated among the tables checking in with the patrons, seems to me he'd be adding a lot more value to the experience, and pulling in a lot more repeat business from locals, since the tourists will always come and go. Is he doing great business without the personal touch? Or is he shy? What's more attractive than a shy hunk? (that's a rhetorical question)

Verdict: I'll definitely go back. There's a chili dog on the menu, after all (healthy! organic!). And I didn't have room for a cupcake. Lucky Devils has its heart in the right place...I just want a little more love. (Is that so wrong?)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lessons from the cinema: Swimming Pool

An occasional series in which we attempt to extract helpful hints from films old and new.

Swimming Pool, directed by Francois Ozon, 2003
  1. English ladies who write mystery novels are repressed and dress prudishly, if expensively.
  2. On occasion, however, they may play the femme fatale and disaster will ensue.
  3. All writers are nosy to the exclusion of their personal safety.
  4. The closets in which English publishers keep their skeletons are located in the south of France.
  5. French blonde daughters are slutty and sophisticated; their English counterparts are awkward and innocent.
  6. It can take all night to dig and fill a grave.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Let's eat: BLD, Pazzo Gelato

When Biffles is not at the bijou, spinning around the pole, reading, or watching even more reruns of crime shows she has already seen way too many times, she often finds it necessary to eat: dining or chowing down, Biffles loves to nibble.

BLD Last Friday lunch, I (to shift pronouns from the third-person-interminable) tried BLD, the new restaurant (in the Red/Opaline/Cafe Capo space on Beverly) from Neal Fraser and the other owners of Grace.

The space is now wide open--the small side bar now serving as a sparsely stocked retail area--and clean, the only decor a bonsai in a recessed spot on the wall. On a summer Friday, there was no need for a lunch reservation (everybody left town to escape the heat except me) and I was seated before Chantalle, the other member of my lunch team that day, arrived.

BLD means "breakfast, lunch dinner" (although I keep confusing it, in my heat-fried brain, with BLT in NYC, which means "Bistro Laurent Tourendel," who has not yet made a foray into LA). There's one menu for B and L; hearty breakfasty eggy items with hearty meats, all organic and with stellar pedigrees. Various breadstuffs, including chive biscuits (amen!). The lunch menu is sandwiches, burgers, salads, a pasta, and a few more entreelike items.

Prices are not modest. My Wagyu burger was $16. The waitress, charming and helpful as she was, seemed to have difficulty understanding that I wanted the burger and its trimmings, but no bun around the burger. I make the tradeoff so I can have the fries, and boy, was I glad--they're matchstick fries (or pommes allumettes) and were terrific. The beef itself was very flavorful. Chantalle went for the hangar steak salad, at $18, and she cleared her plate happily.

The choices of wine by the glass were not extensive, but decent; the list wasn't overpriced, either. We eschewed dessert but the menu looked good, including several cookie selections.

Verdict: Will return, maybe not very soon but sometime for breakfast.

Pazzo Gelato I could start this by saying , pazzo means "crazy" in Italian, and this is some crazy gelato! But I will forebear. (oops!). At Sunset and Hyperion in Silverlake (parking lot behind the building) Pazzo scoops their own homemade gelato. No ice cream, no sorbet -- just gelato. My two-scoop combo included limoncello (nicely tart on a--surprise!--hot day) and rose. The flavors are various and range from chocolate to fig and even red plum (although it was listed on the board, the scooper couldn't find it). Well-meaning staff....hey, it was a hot hot day and the a/c in Pazzo wasn't doing such a great job.

Verdict: Hey, are they still open? (until 11 Tues through Sat, 8 on Sunday, closed Monday)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Summer Reading: One Mississippi by Mark Childress

One Mississippi fuses social history with the other momentous events in the life of a displaced teenager, Daniel Musgrove, who is uprooted from Indiana and set down in Minor, Mississippi—although he might as well be on the moon. The other kids in his class laugh at him, his mother—who grew up in Alabama—goes native, his father is as surly as ever, and neither of his siblings offers much help. He’s doubly an outsider, not only a teenager but a Yankee in a new world he doesn’t particularly see a reason to adapt to. Integration and race relations are big issues, but he can’t see them the way the black and white Mississippians he meets do.

With his one friend Tim, Daniel muddles through what might seem like normal high school milestones—the prom, meeting girls, playing in the band for a high school musical—but Childress shows us the shadowy underside of these superficially cheery events. In addition to the satisfaction of a well-told tale, he allows the reader to come along with Daniel as he discovers the unpredictability of love—as well as just about everything else in his life.

Childress doesn’t pull any punches from the beginning of the novel. He has a serious story to tell—there are some shocking and sad scenes in here—but he does it with humor and affection and a blessed lack of sentimentality.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Clerks II: True love in New Jersey

No, not the romantic kind. The kind between buddy and buddy, between Randall and Dante, the clerks, played by Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran, who are back in slightly more evolved form (well, sort of) in Clerks II.

Randall still says all the outrageous and offensive things that Dante would never say, and he has some real doozies in this sequel, particularly a running joke in which he confuses two famous women in history. Dante expresses outrage, and always takes the moral high road. He's the reliable one. But he's also the one who gives in and goes along before Randall does, and in this film, Randall is there to save his pal at the very last minute. Rosario Dawson more than holds her own as a woman who's another buddy to Dante--no, not the romantic kind, but maybe just the kind he needs.

A go-cart scene to the song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" (used in the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the ur-buddy movie) lampoons the guy-bonding genre. But when push comes to shove--after the donkey that so offended the critic Joel Siegel, who ought to think twice before his next fit of high dudgeon--Randall comes through for his friend, in as he would say, "a totally heterosexual way."

In between, there is raunch and smartass talk galore, much of it in New Jersey dialect. New Jersey is my native state (I almost wrote "land,") and I have long held that "fuckin' nuts," along with the related two-word phrase "waddya, nuts?" is exclusive to the Garden State. As is the word "chud." (Look up the film.) Kevin Smith's characters speak in a way that's unique to his films: each always seems to be explaining his or her convoluted logic without really understanding it. And they use what to the rest of us might seem like vocabulary words: "imperative" (Dante), "nomenclature" (Randall), and "chaos incarnate" (Dante talking about Randall).

Not to go on too long about my native state, but this film sums up the Jersey ethos: feistiness, determination, creative use of bad language, and the sense that time is passing and maybe it's better elsewhere (not for nothing did someone propose making "Born to Run" the state song). Anderson and O'Halloran, both Jersey natives, embody the what-the-hell spirit that every Jerseyan has. And for someone who comes from across the river, namely NYC, Rosario Dawson does a damn good impression of a (I shudder to use the hackneyed phrase) Jersey girl.

Many traditional buddy pictures are also road pictures; think Butch Cassidy or Easy Rider. These buddies don't go anywhere, much. And I love them all the more for it. Clerks II could easily offend the self-righteous. But the film is not for them....and chances are they won't see it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Comics are good for you

No, Biffles isn't going to Comic-Con -- too close to finishing the first draft of the novel to leave home. And sometime soon I'll post on my favorites.

In the meantime, here is a fab column by USA Today's "Pop Candy" columnist Whitney Matheson on Comics for People Who Don't Read Comics, and it's a great list. Come on, yes, it's USA Today, but this is a great column. And Whitney's at Comic-Con, too.

Will these titles convert the unconverted? We can only hope. How anyone can resist a great story, with pictures, is beyond me. Resistance is futile...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bob, je t'aime

The number of films I can converse about intelligently but have never seen is vast. Ditto for bands, plays, novels...why don't I just come out and admit that I can fake cultural knowledge when I want to? (I went to a college that graduates people who are good at that.)

So I'd certainly heard about the 1956 Jean-Pierre Melville film Bob le Flambeur, and probably nodded knowingly when someone praised it...but I'd never seen it. Never ever.

But now I have seen Bob, thanks to Netflix, and I am in love. Bob, played by Roger Duchesne, is a compulsive gambler. Taking risks is in his very nature. Although he's on a losing streak, he insists that he is lucky, and eventually he does win again, although not in the way he has planned. The film is moody, dark. There's little dialogue, as Bob accomplishes business--whether it's helping a young streetwalker, pushing his protege to watch his step, or planning a major heist--with very few words. He's cool, like a gangster, but it's a Zen kind of cool that takes in all things and is surprised by nothing. Bob has no expectations, only a belief in his own power...and that's all he needs.

After waiting a respectful period of time, I watched Melville's Le Samourai, a policier with a similarly suave, Zen hero in Jef Costello, played by Alain Delon, and a mesmerizing nine-minute opening sequence with no dialogue or voiceover. Jef is cool.

But Bob has spoiled me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Big O: Parker Posey finds her bliss

In The Oh in Ohio, Priscilla Chase is told by her boss, as he promotes her to Vice President, "You're creative, and you're entirely predictable."

He says it like predictability is a good thing.

For the rest of this offbeat comedy, Priscilla proves him entirely wrong, to the point of almost losing her job when she is constantly interrupted--by a hidden pager set to vibrate--in the midst of a sales presentation. Of course, she succeeds anyway in getting a Scandinavian company to relocate to, yes, Cleveland. The city of Cleveland (all together: "Burn on, big river, burn on") is the unlikely co-star of this film, or as Parker Posey, who plays Priscilla, cheerleads: "We've gone from "The Mistake on the Lake" to "The Roar on the Shore."

You see, perfect Priscilla has a little problem: She's never had an orgasm. She's just not the kind of girl to masturbate, so her couples therapist (she's married to Paul Rudd, beefy in a beard) recommends a vibrator, she's off...and keeps getting off. Her high-school teacher husband leaves to mess around with his student (Mischa Barton), and Priscilla and her vibrator spend many happy hours together -- an average of 13.5 orgasms per day, as she tells sex-shop clerk Heather Graham (did I mention that Miss Perfect is just a little OCD?).

As the conventional wisdom goes, hijinks ensue, although not on the usual scale: Liza Minnelli plays a sex therapist teaching her female students to "Liberate your labia! Claim your clitoris!" and seems perfectly reasonable and wacky at the same time (is that playacting?). Danny DeVito is Wayne the Pool Guy, featured on a TV commercial reminiscent of the fictional pool commercial in Desperately Seeking Susan but no less funny this time....and Wayne turns out to be an unlikely friend to Priscilla.

Underneath the ironic circumstances and laffs is a subtext that suggests talking about sex is good, and finding what we want is even better...because it puts the "Oh" in Ohio.

Brenda Lee Johnson, girl geek

The Closer has become my summer cop show of choice, since neither the Jerry Bruckheimer nor Dick Wolf empire produces new shows in the summer. And Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson is good company of an evening.

She's brisk, never conciliatory, and as her boss (played by former Law and Order shrink J.K. Simmons -- what, did he leave psychiatry for the law?) said about her this week, "She sometimes forgets there are other people in the world." She is unfailingly polite, but her manners are simply that -- she says "thank yew" to the guilty and the innocent. So what if she occasionally forgets that other people have feelings? She knows it...she's sorry...she'll do better...someday...maybe.

The TNT site, linked above, has some good Brenda lines in sound samples, but also dumbass promos like "Brenda's Southern recipes." She may love her sweet tea, but Brenda's got better things to do with her time. I relate to her geekitude--I don't need to know how an imaginary character makes cornbread.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Biffles takes it off

Sunday night chez Biffles means it's time for my weekly S Factor class...and time to think about who I want to be when I dance that evening. (Check the link for details if you don't know what I mean.)

Last night's theme suggestion was: Be your favorite movie character.

Hmmmmm...well, I identify with Enid in Ghost World, but a routine in which I become Enid doesn't sound so enticing, does it? (Although, come to think of it, "Devil Got My Woman" could work.) But a plaid skirt? Ain't gonna work for this recovering Catholic girl.

So I thought, what movie would I want to be in? Well, anything by Pedro Almodovar, of course, especially Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown -- bright colors! polka dots! drugged gazpacho! But I couldn't think of any music to use that would work for me.

Which brought me to Swinging London in the swinging sixties: Julie Christie! Jean Shrimpton! Pattie Boyd! Jane Asher! So I laced up my pink gogo platform boots, got out the black-and-white minidress with allover High Anxiety spirals, and wore humongo purple plastic hoop earrings (all day, so I'd be in the mood). My choice of music? Miss Cilla Black, singing "You're My World."

I think Cilla (and Julie, Jean, Pattie, and Jane, not to mention Petula and Lulu) would have been proud.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hot, hot, hot

"Isn't this one of the reasons we left the east coast?" a friend of mine said recently, only a week into the current heat wave that shows no signs of abating. Apart from desperately missing June Gloom--which, this year, was more like May Gray--I find myself coping with the hot weather in a number of self-deceiving yet self-preserving ways. Here are my suggestions.
  1. Do everything in the morning. When I wake up, my place is cool and breezy, even though I find that the apartment cools off later and later every night. But in the morning it's easy to think, I can deal with this. What's the problem? So I get a few things done. Then I drink some hot coffee and start to shvitz, and before I know it, it's afternoon and the air is heavy.
  2. Relative thinking. Very few apartments in Paris have air conditioning. So it's even worse there. On the other hand, they're in Paris.
  3. Don't move. Yesterday afternoon, after a dance class in a studio without a/c , I came home, showered, and sat. I couldn't move. The TV was my best friend. Suddenly, anything that was happening on E! was more interesting than anything else in the world. But what was I thinking, doing the Pony at 3 in the afternoon on a hot day?

When the going gets tough, grab the laptop and head for the Beverly Center. You'll be in good company.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wolverine's hidden past

Some light entertainment for another hot day--

We fans of the X-men know that Wolverine is searching for lost memories....could it be an all-singing, all-dancing kind-of-a-past? One with splashy production numbers and...maracas?

(you won't be sorry if you click on the link and watch the video...all hail ChocolateCakeCity and their many talents!)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

If it quacks like a duck....

Queer Duck is a new feature-length animated laff fest, based on the short that ran on (also home to the late lamented Zombie College). With his trademark saturation comedy, incorporating broad strokes of shtick, an onslaught of "in" jokes, and zillions of little digs, Mike Reiss follows the travails of Queer Duck, his long-suffering companion Openly Gator, and their pals Oscar Wildcat and Bi-Polar Bear. There are celebrity cameos and (spoiler alert!), David Duchovny as the voice of Jesus, surely the most unsurprising voice-over casting this year.

Queer Duck has been screened around over the last few weeks (as part of Outfest in L.A., for example) and is released on DVD next week.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Summer reading, part 1

(an occasional series featuring books old and new)

Good Beach Reads
What with all the distractions on the sand--the sand itself, the sun, am I wearing enough sunblock?, the heat, the mesmerizing waves, the occasionally mesmerizing other beachgoers--the beach is no place to try to read anything of any depth. (Props to you well-tanned Proustophiles, but I'm not among you.)

Titillation and/or suspense, along with a strong storyline that sticks with you through the distractions noted above, are essential. A few suggestions:

Out by Natsuo Kirino. (novel) Four working women in the Tokyo suburbs deal with a nasty situation that affects all of them. Violent at times, the narrative pushes forward along with their desperation. Especially interesting is the insight on class -- another view of Japan. Everyone I've recommended this to has enjoyed it.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. (novel) Bought this to read on a long plane flight (back from Paris, if you must know) and didn't expect much because of my snottiness toward bestsellers. On the other hand, I love vampire stories and this is a smartly written and entertaining one. I hope I'm ready if I ever find that creepy book on my shelf.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. (novel) OK, forget what I said about bestsellers. Because this was one, and it's great. A whodunit, a family drama, and on some level just plain sad. But written with love and humor.

Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel. (memoir) This one might be a little too serious for the beach...on the other hand, if you're a writer and/or a recovering Catholic and/or get migraines, like me, it might be just the ticket. Her memories of childhood emotions are phenomenal in their specificity.

Lady Heather's Wisdom

So last night, I got my crime-show fix (full disclosure: My name is Biffles and I am addicted to "Law and Order," but occasionally cheat with other crime shows) by watching an evening rerun of the original "CSI"....turned out to be the first episode featuring Lady Heather, the mistress of what seems to be a high-end dungeon. (Note: Doesn't that house look awfully....New England for Las Vegas? Or even Santa Clarita, where they shoot most of the non-Vegas exteriors?)

Anyway, in one sequence, Catherine Willowes and Lady Heather are girl-bonding (Catherine comments on the great outfits that dominatrices get to wear) and Lady Heather says, when my daughter was old enough to understand, I taught her that you can give a man your body, your money, your heart, but never give him your power.

Wow, Lady H, thanks! Didn't recall this from my first viewing of the episode...maybe I wasn't ready for Lady H's zen at the time....

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

R.I.P. Syd Barrett

When Pink Floyd was formed in 1965, Syd Barrett was its guiding star. His breakdown, characterized by many as "mental instability" but seeming more, in my amateur psychologist's opinion, as schizophrenia, self-medicated with LSD, had a huge effect on the band, their direction, and their music.

Syd's bright shining talent was honored by the band overtly on their incredible album "Wish You Were Here," and also in a practical way by their making sure that Syd continued to receive the royalties due to him. I suspect that Messrs. Gilmour, Mason, Waters, and Wright also gained more than a little sensitivity to mental illness from their experience with Syd.

Like Rimbaud, Syd Barrett had a longer life than actively and publicly creative period -- but a vast and lasting influence.

Miranda and Anna: Who's the Devil?

The Devil Wears Prada is the latest film to take on the myth of the successful woman, and reach the easy conclusion that while she may be successful, her personal life is a mess.

Even assuming the obvious--that no successful businessman, or magazine editor for that matter, is judged by the presumed quality of his life out of the office--the film doesn't do Miranda Priestly justice. She's shown in conflict with her husband because she missed yet another dinner date with him, a conflict that's presented as if it might be emblematic of how she is not attending to her marriage. In that scene, I wondered why she hadn't had one of her many assistants simply phone him to tell him she was running late. Later in the film, there's an reference that he may not be her first husband, and combined with the fact that she's helmed Runway for many years, surely he's a grownup (after all, he's played by James Naughton, a manly man if ever there was one) who knew what he was getting into marrying the major fashion arbiter. Surely he knew she wouldn't always be available when he wanted her to be.

So why assume that Miranda can't have a reasonably happy home life while keeping her go-go career going? Note that I said "reasonably" happy. The myth of "having it all" also assumes that everything is always the best in the best of all possible worlds. In real life, with its complications and complexities, no one "has it all, " except perhaps for a fleeting moment. Which is not to say happiness isn't possible -- it's just not the fairyland that many of us grew up thinking it would be.

And the real-life model for Miranda, Anna Wintour, does seem to have a life outside the office. She even managed to have an affair (with her current companion, Shelby Bryan), while married to Dr. David Shaffer, and do what seems to be a reasonable job of raising her two children at the same time. While the wisdom, or not, of the affair is her business, one certainly can't accuse her of not attending to her private life (not to mention what must be superior time management skills). Maybe the real Miranda understands that happiness is complicated, and the career/family issue is not an all-or-nothing proposition, on either side.