January 9-10, 2015

We watched Alien and Aliens. Alien is of course perfect in its way, hermetic. Kind of small in a 70s Dan O’Bannon way. I learned after this round of viewing that for the 2003 DVD box set, a “Director’s Cut” was slapped together with an hour of additional footage. After it was all finished, Ridley Scott watched it and decided it was stupid, and recut the whole thing to the same length as the original cut.

I was surprised at how well Aliens has aged. I still cringe at the couple of Cameron catch-phrases near the end, but overall I think I enjoyed it more this time than I did when it was released, or at any other viewings since then.

We did watch the “Special Edition” of Aliens, which has something like 18 minutes of extra footage, a lot of it in the service of colonist back-story and Ripley character development. I’m not sure if I had ever seen it before; maybe that’s why I liked it better this time.

Anyway. Takeaway from Aliens is that Cameron was really good at interleaving character development with suspense, intrigue, and action. But that the balance he attained in the mid-80s was apparently a fragile one, one that was already showing signs of falling apart by the time he made Terminator 2.

Friday night I had dinner at Bar Virgile. The fried oysters and the bibb salad with duck are both amazing (as are the cocktails, of course). I’m not sure that enough people are aware that there’s a first-class chef, Carrie Schleiffer, running the kitchen at Virgile. 

It’s probably just as well that it’s sort of a semi-secret, though, as the place is tiny & it’s already getting packed around dinnertime.

Saturday we saw Selma. It’s a great movie, for any number of reasons. The dialogue is, for the most part, excellent. The cinematography & editing flow between naturalism and a more impressionistic mode that is particularly effective during the more violent scenes. David Oyelowo took a huge risk in agreeing to play Martin Luther King, Jr, and it paid off – he successfully captures MLK’s vocal cadences and delivers some fiery speeches, without ever sounding like he’s directly mimicking the recordings.

There’s a device where FBI surveillance notes are superimposed on the screen at various moments, but if the goal is to convey how creepy that surveillance was, it’s not effective. It feels more like convenient ways to shorthand narrative gaps.

J. Edgar Hoover only appears in one scene, and thus Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ is left to do a lot of the antagonistic heavy lifting. Many historians say that this is unfair to LBJ. I don’t really have a problem with dramatic license, but it does seem like there was ample opportunity for Hoover and George Wallace to be more realistically vile, and to perhaps just let LBJ recede more into the background.

Also unfair: What they did to Giovanni Ribisi’s hair.

All in all, it’s a great film, and I hope it fucking sweeps the Oscars. Because no black woman has ever even been nominated for Best Director.

January 9-10, 2015

December 23-24, 2014

After work I decided to check out Bar Virgile; you may have seen a photo of a small portion of it yesterday.

Some observations:

  • The decor and the overall vibe are kind of not-Durham, but not in a bad way. I felt like I was in, well, Atlanta, or at least the small part of Atlanta that feels relatively cosmopolitan. Someone has paid a lot of attention to details in a way that hasn’t always been the case around here.
  • Juju has a similar vibe. 2015 is apparently going to be the year in which Durham steps up its game, ambience-wise. 
  • Carrie from G2B is the chef at Bar Virgile, which is emphatically a bar, but which also has a pretty substantial menu of cheeses, charcuterie & bar food (sausages, sandwiches, fried stuff). And frog legs and escargots. I always liked the food at G2B & hated everything else about it, so I’m 100% OK with this change.
  • It was packed at 6:45 on the Tuesday night before Christmas Eve. This doesn’t necessarily bode well for anyone actually hoping to get in & get a seat & get served at any point in the future.

Tuesday evening we watched Tusk, the 2014 Kevin Smith movie. I wish that I had known more about the back-story before we bothered to rent it – apparently Smith wrote the whole thing in an hour while stoned on a podcast with a friend of his? It shows. A lot.

M has been sick with a heavy-duty chest cold for 3-4 days now, and I have been zincing up a storm trying to keep it out of me. I may be slowly losing that battle. At least I’m off work until next Monday, although I had sincere plans involving node.js and a new WXDU music database.

I felt OK this morning but the day has been kind of touch-and-go.

Tonight we saw Wild, the new Reese Witherspoon movie based on Cheryl Strayed’s book about hiking the 1000-mile Pacific Crest Trail from the California/Mexico border to Oregon. Witherspoon is OK – I had a hard time sympathizing with her character, but I don’t know that that’s her fault. Laura Dern is outstanding as Strayed’s mom, but then I think she’s outstanding in literally everything she does.

Overall, while I’m glad it was made – lord knows we need more movies with strong women as primary characters – it was a little too heavy on the pop-psych and over-obvious poetry quotes for my tastes.

Just got home from dinner at Piedmont. I have eaten at Piedmont on a fairly regular basis since it opened, through good times and not-so-good times, and I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the food now is better than it has ever been. 

This is a fairly recent development – as little as 3-4 months ago, the current chef & FOH manager were clearly trying really hard, but hadn’t quite worked out all the kinks. But this fall it seems like everything really locked into place.

December 23-24, 2014