Amanda Gates
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A Musings

I love Jennifer Westfeldt. Ever since I watched Kissing Jessica Stein more than 10 years ago, I’ve loved her. She writes smart, fun, flirty films. Her main characters (so her, mostly) are flawed and confused, but really, really good people. I loved her in Notes from the Underbelly, the short-lived comedy a few years back. Ira & Abby was cute, too, and introduced me to the lovable Chris Messina (who will be on Mindy Kaling’s new show this fall). Plus, at the end of the day she gets to go home with Jon Hamm. What’s not to love?

When Friends with Kids came out last year, I knew I would have to see it. It finally came available for rental this week and I watched it last night. Just by who was in the film (Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Edward Burns), you can tell that over the years Jennifer and Jon (who is in all three of her movies) have made some good friends. The cast is excellent and so is the story.

The premise of the movie studies marriage after kids. Can you be happy and in love with kids? After seeing their friends become exhausted people, different people, post kids, Julie and Jason (Westfeldt and Scott), best friends, don’t think you can have all three. So, they decide to have a kid together without the relationship.

And at first, it seems like they have it all figured out. They split time equally. When the baby is with Jason, Julie can going running, cook great food for her friends and go out in the evenings. When you’re married, you’re together all the time. No one gets to leave and sleep at their own place for the night. During the newborn stage, Julie and Jason’s arrangement actually seems kind of perfect.

Ah, but can you have your cake and eat it too? Things aren’t always as perfect as they seem, which is what the movie continues to discover.

I loved that the movie showed all different kinds of relationships. Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm’s characters’ marriage struggles. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd’s characters’ marriage is hard, but there’s real love there. Julie and Jason show what it’s like to date with a kid. It’s a unique study in relationships. (I kind of wonder if any of Westfeldt and Hamm’s friends wondered who in the movie was modeled after real-life people they know.)

And while I love Westfeldt, the true star of the movie is Adam Scott (Is he the new Paul Rudd? In everything, but cuter and not so ridiculous?). He’s phenomenal. He plays the perfect mix of douchebag, kind best friend, smart ass and loving father. Even when his character is at his worst, you don’t hate him. You feel for him. And when he comes to certain realizations about his life and gets emotional, your heart swells.

Minus the constant swearing in front of the children, which I feel is unrealistic and irresponsible, as well as the casting of Megan Fox (blech), the movie is awesome and completely and truly Westfeldt. I wish she wrote movies every year.

Posted: Thu, 07/19/2012 - 08:26 |

I missed last week due to the holiday, so a couple of these are hold overs. Here's what (and who) I'm loving lately:

+ Anderson Cooper: No, it wasn't a surprise, but it was eloquent and heartfelt. In addition, I respect his views on being a good journalist. Not enough news journalists these days think this way: "For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people’s stories, and not my own. I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist."

+ Walking Dead: I'm excited and frightened for Season 3. This Q&A made me even more so. I think the prison is going to be such an amazing location.

+ 10 Bands I Will Be Forced to Listen to in Hell: While I don't agree with all of these (I like REM and The Beach Boys are very nostalgic for me), I still thought this article was pretty hilarious.

+ Flow Free: I was looking for a new game for my phone and found this. I'm officially addicted, and if I do say so myself, I kind of kick ass.

+ The Day I Spanked my Daughter: I love Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom. A study recently came out about kids who are spanked and a link to depression, so of course, everyone's talking about spanking. Who does it? Is it abuse? I don't even really know how I feel about it yet, but I love Meagan's post. I love how she admits a hard thing, admits a mistake, but also stresses the importance of acceptance of all parents.

She writes, "But when I’m dealing with otherwise kind, reasonable, loving parents, I prefer to start with the benefit of the doubt. That maybe their opinions about whatever I find distasteful might evolve over time (I know that plenty of my parenting opinions have changed over the years.) That maybe the mother in question is working out the way she really feels about the Issue Du Jour. That maybe she is coming from a background that I can’t understand, or dealing with pressures I can’t see. That perhaps the scene I witnessed was a low point in a stressful day."

+ Melinda Gates: She's pledged $560 million to help expand contraception to women around the world. I applaud this. And we need more people like her (with the courage and the money) in this world. From the article, "Supporters of the campaign estimate that this year will see 80 million unintended pregnancies in developing countries. They say 800 women die every day as a result of pregnancy-related complications - the leading cause of death for teenage girls in the developing world."

Plus, I love when doing nothing costs MORE than doing something good: "Simply sustaining the current use of contraceptives by 260 million women in the 69 poorest countries over the next eight years will cost about $10 billion."

It only makes sense.

Posted: Fri, 07/13/2012 - 09:00 |

So I’ve read Tina and Mindy and now I read Lizz. Three comediennes with memoirs. They’re all such smart, witty, courageous women who I feel cracked some major glass ceilings on their way to the top. Like I wrote with Mindy’s book, I hate to compare them to each other, but it’s hard not to. If you want a one-sentence review: While I laughed harder at Bossypants, I related more and just felt more with Lizz Free or Die.

If you’re from Minneapolis, you’d probably agree with me there. Lizz came of age in the absolute best time in Minneapolis. She was dancing at First Avenue before it was First Avenue. Because of this she had connections and was then alerted to when Prince (PRINCE!) was there and she’d head down and dance while he overlooked the floor from the DJ booth. She was even a DJ at First Avenue for a stint. She roomed with a member of Soul Asylum. I mean, come on! So, very, very awesome.

I have the same hatred for cable news that she does, so reading her rants about that broken system of “journalism” is right up my alley. I love the Daily Show, and she’s the co-creator, so it was so interesting to read about how she put that show together. She brought Stephen Colbert over from the Today Show and look where he’s at now. I never listened to the short-lived Air America, but that too would’ve been something up my alley. Winstead played a huge role in getting this new radio station on the air. I never realized all the work it took to create a radio program, let alone an entire radio station, so that part was fascinating.

She also writes about her aging parents and how they lived in a not-quite-assisted-living complex in Bloomington. The place sounds nearly identical to where my grandparents lived, so her stories about the set up of the building, the folks who hung out by the main entrance and watched every visitor who arrived, etc., made me nod my head and laugh out loud.

I started following Winstead on Twitter a few years ago because her hilarious tweets were always getting re-tweeted. And then her mom got sick and passed away right around the same time as my mom and I felt a connection. She only talks briefly about her mom’s death in the book, but there’s a chapter about her dad’s passing, and it’s all very moving, yet with a sense of humor. I admire the way she writes about this time in her life.

It’s quick, it’s inspiring and it’s darn funny. It was a good book to get me out of a book funk.

Posted: Wed, 07/11/2012 - 08:48 | Comments: 2

Hi! Sorry! I've been absent, I would say, for two reasons. One, I've been in a book funk and haven't had any good books to share with you. Has that ever happened to you? It drives me nuts, but I'm reading something good now! Two, we got the major sick in our house last week. So, unless you wanted a post that said, "Friday, I'm in Love with DayQuil," I had nothing good to say.

But, enough of that!

RIP Nora Ephron: I don't know how many times I've seen Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally. A whole bunch. So, when my husband told me the other night Nora Ephron passed away, I literally lost my breath. So sad. (BTW, I hate cancer.) I soaked up all the tributes out there, including one from Minnesota Monthly. Plus, I re-read Ephron's hilarious article on boobs (which has since been taken down by request of her estate). What a lady.

Sorkinisms - Supercut: Anyone who knows me knows that I love pretty much anything Sorkin. Sports Night, West Wing, Studio 60 (I still miss you). I loathe that The Newsroom is on HBO, which I don't have. But, 'you bet your ass' I can also appreciate this HILARIOUS video of the favorite phrases that he uses over and over (and apparently in commencement addresses). As a writer I understand how we all have our turns of phrase that we use, our own little tics. So, it's funny to see them all mashed together. But I still love every bit of it.

Stop the Snark: Because of a series of circumstances, I've found I've become a bit snarky. Sometimes my snark can bring some big laughs, but I'm starting to think I should tone it down. So, this article hit home a bit and provides some good ammunition for stopping the snark.

Total Recall trailer: I never saw the original movie, but my husband has so I watched this new trailer with him in mind. And I was surprised when I actually thought it looked like a good movie. Who knew? (It's no Batman. 22 DAYS.)

What are you loving this week? I need some more things to love!

Posted: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 09:04 |

Food Network Star: My husband and I got hooked on this show last summer. It's just the right amount of reality ridiculouness and TV smarts. I like hearing from the network's marketing and production VIPs about what they're looking for in a star. It also makes you really appreciate the hard work it takes to film a segment of say, Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. This year they changed it up by having Bobby, Giada and Alton mentor teams instead of judging. And I really like this concept. While I liked Alton Brown before, I just love him now. He's so witty, a snappy dresser and oh so smart.

The other thing we learned in last week's episode was that both Alton and Giada were not the popular kids in school. Giada was an immigrant "who talked funny and brought weird food for lunch," while Alton was overweight. They were bullied. And look where they are now! The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth indeed.

Green Day trailer: How many years has it been since 21 Guns? Three. So, it's exciting to get a taste of what's to come with the band's new trilogy of albums, Uno, Dos & Tre.

Goodbye CSI Miami: I had to giggle at this spoof of Candle in the Wind, which takes a moment to mourn the cancellation of CSI Miami. I think we could've seen a few more clips of Horatio and his sunglasses (was he a scientist? was he a cop? NYPD Blue in a lab coat?), but the lyrics are pretty hilarious. I can't believe that show was on for 10 years.

Smashing Pumpkins: And just for my husband, I'm going to mention the Pumpkins' latest, Oceania. It comes out Tuesday, but was streaming on iTunes earlier this week. It's been getting rave reviews, and it's definitely what my husband is loving this week. (He wouldn't call it "the best," but it's up there, he says.)

Your turn!

Posted: Fri, 06/15/2012 - 08:42 | Comments: 2

Only a couple entries today. Not that I don't love things, but it was a busy week and I didn't discover as much. Also, I'm in a reading funk, so I've been choosing to play games on my phone over reading lately. I hope to find a good book soon. Any suggestions?

We Only Think We Know the Truth About Salt: I liked this article and I'm not sure why. Maybe just because I like when people discover that Things We Know Are True in fact may actually not be true.

Honest Toddler: My friend Erin introduced me to Honest Toddler and it's hilarious. Tweets like: "Toddler Tip: It's never too early for a tantrum. Rage against the machine (mommy)" and "If she's not smelling my head, she's scratching/inspecting it, pulling knots apart or picking out lint. Contemplating a restraining order." And there's a blog! I could die, some of these posts are so funny and true. The latest one on Potty Training Mommy left me in tears (of laughter and shame, I suppose).

10 Rules for Writing Fiction: This is an older article, but I only just discovered it from a tweet the other day. A bunch of authors give their tips for writing fiction. I love this kind of stuff. There are the rules that everyone says: Read your work out loud; Never use adverbs; Schedule time to write; Ask a friend to read it; Don't use a computer with Internet! (I like how some of the authors are old-school, still using pens and paper. Internet? Why is that even a factor?) Some rules contradcit each other like, Read All the Time vs. Never Read Fiction Ever. Here are some helpful and funny rules I loved:

"Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine." Margaret Atwood

"Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said"." Roddy Doyle

"Remember you love writing. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back. Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on." Al Kennedy

"Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? Don't write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book's ready." Hilary Mantel

"Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst." Joyce Carol Oates

"The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply." Will Self

Your turn!


Posted: Fri, 06/08/2012 - 09:57 | Comments: 2

7 Little Words: This is one of my favorite games on my phone. It's the perfect bus game, especially when I'm not inspired to read. I'm getting fairly good at it, surprising myself when I can get through three or four levels on my 15-minute commute home. (And I never cheat, I swear.)

Summit Pilsener: My husband loves Summit. Actually "love" isn't a strong enough word. However, he gets EPA or the new Saga and those are just too strong for me. I'd accepted the fact that I wouldn't be able to share this love with him. Until he brought home the Pilsener. It's my new favorite beer. Sorry Stella.

Live Lip-Dub Proposal: It's been out there for about a week, so you've probably already seen it. But, go ahead and watch it again. What planning. What commitment. What fun. I love this kind of stuff -- renews my faith in humanity and love for one another. ::sniff::

If Magazine Covers Told the Truth: It's racy, but I loved this post beacause 1) its fake headlines depict all the reasons I hate women's magazines, and 2) cover-design stuff like "Hey look, A Circle" and business stuff like "285 pages of ads" hits just close enough to home it's pretty darn hilarious.

Your turn!

Posted: Fri, 06/01/2012 - 08:58 | Comments: 2

When you’re a fan of a small market team like the Minnesota Twins, you have some heartache throughout your lifetime. We’ve never had a lot of money to spend (I think last year we had our highest payroll ever) on players; maybe we’ll get one or two big-money guys, but then the rest we build up through are supposedly awesome farm system. And hey, this is great, and perhaps the way the game should be played, but not when you have to compete against the Yankees and the Angels on a regular basis.

The Twins are very similar to the early 2000 Oakland A’s, on which Moneyball is based. In fact, it’s rumored the movie was going to be made—or the book was going to be written—either about the A’s or the Twins and the A’s won out. (Maybe because Billy Beane is a younger, handsomer man than Terry Ryan? Just a guess.) Here’s a team that loses its three best players, has no money to spend, and needs to win some games. The GM goes a little rogue and starts thinking in scientific terms (OPS) vs. attributes like all-around talent, good attitude, a pretty face, etc.

And man, does this sound familiar. How many times have we heard that a Twins player is a “leader in the clubhouse” yet hits .201 or something ridiculous? Why is Casilla still on our team, besides sometimes having an awesome defensive play? I’m guilty of it myself. I didn’t want Cuddyer to go because he seems like such a good guy, but then here’s Willingham (who could also be a good guy, I don’t know) who’s hitting more home runs than Cuddyer probably would’ve. But in the end, story of our life, we choke with men on base. So it does seem like OPS means something, doesn’t it? No bunting? No stealing? That’s crazy talk! Or is it?

The other part of the film that was quite interesting was the relationship between the owner and the GM and then the GM and the manager. At the end of the day, the GM and the manager just want to put a good team on the field, but the owner can’t fork over the dough. So the GM gets frustrated at the owner, yet swallows this and pushes his agenda on the manager, who then doesn’t think the GM knows squat and plays his players the way he wants to play them.

Is this the way it is in Minnesota too? Does Terry Ryan secretly beg the Pohlad’s for more money? Does Gardenhire sit on the bench just shaking his head because a manager can only work with what he’s got? (Where’s his pitching?!) The organization does a really good job at painting a pretty “we all get along” picture, but perhaps it’s not that way, like it wasn’t in Oakland in 2002? And the trades and fast phone conversations and sitting in the office of the GM of a bigger team and begging for player? (“We’ll give you Carlos Gomez.” Um, OK, I suppose it’s a deal.) How crazy and, sometimes, humiliating. Yet so interesting.

So, anyway, while I dislike Brad Pitt (he seriously plays the same smirky guy in every single movie), I could see beyond that to what’s a really good baseball movie. And for a baseball fan, Moneyball was wholly entertaining, a bit heartbreaking and quite enlightening. I won’t look at baseball, or the Twins, the same way again—even if I keep getting my heart broken.

Posted: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 14:03 | Comments: 1

Redhead Ranting's Inked post: I love how she correlated being physically tattooed with the emotional (or hidden) ink that we carry with us. She writes, "Screw the people who don’t like your ink – that’s their ink talking. Learn to wear yours, as it’s the reason you can stand in front of the people you love…and have them love you back."

Always Take Backup T-shirt: I remember when I first started streaming Veronica Mars a couple years ago. In the very first episode, her awesome dad said to her, "Remember to take backup." I had no idea what he meant until when she needed him, her awesome dog provided protection. Jennie mentioned this shirt over on Style Lush. LOVE IT. (I'd wear the East Dillon shirt, too.)

Michonne: EW gives us a first peek at Michonne on The Walking Dead. This is the only reason I want it to be October already, if it didn't mean summer would be over.

Skyfall trailer: Casino Royale kicked butt, Quantum of Solace was good if not a bit confusing... So, it's very exciting to catch a first glimpse at the next 007 movie. This is M's last one and I'm curious about her fate. And Daniel Craig is just the best Bond.

Liz Phair's new video for And He Slayed Her: She's hot. She can sing. The end.

Posted: Fri, 05/25/2012 - 07:51 | Comments: 4

Well. I mentioned in my post about The Tiger’s Wife that I was having a little trouble understanding why Swamplandia was named a 2011 Book of the Year. Why some critics claimed it “grabs you from the first page!”

I’ve finished it now and: Hi! Still wondering!

Wow, what a weirdo book.

Swamplandia focuses on a family in the swamps of Florida who have an alligator-wrestling-museum-amusement-park. When the mother dies and the attraction falls into disarray, the father leaves his three children to fend for themselves, basically. These kids have never been off this island for more than a mainland visit, so they’re quite the odd ducks. Brother Kiwi finds this out almost immediately after moving to the mainland looking for work. Sister Ossie gets involved with ghosts (ah, what?) and little sister Ava seems to be the only one who cares what happens to everyone.

At first I liked it a bit because the weird family seemed endearing. But page after page of reading about the swamp and alligators and the dirty, rival amusement park… well, it was depressing and, frankly made me feel kind of gross. Like I had just spent a week in the swamp myself. (So, A+ for setting, I suppose? Though is “gross” really the reaction Karen Russell was going for?)

I liked the heroine, Ava, to some extent, but she talked like she was 40 and then was so naive in other ways. Ava’s individual adventure went on for way too long and contained, I felt, a completely unnecessary and gratuitous scene that turned me off completely near the end. By then I was just powering through so I could say I finished it.

This book started from a short story; I’m curious about the short story now, if only to see why Russell thought it warranted an expansion. This is not the first time I’ve disliked something that many others enjoyed, so I won’t take offense if you loved it. It just wasn’t for me, and I’m a little disappointed I spent time reading this when I could’ve read something else. 

Posted: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 15:35 | Comments: 1