Saturday, May 22, 2010

an important read for comic book fans

Click here to read a fantastic essay about the representation of women in comic books. I love comics, but as a woman it can be a very frustrating medium to enjoy. This essay explains why.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

i want a pony

Or at least this Equestrian Romance Ring that my friend Emma found online. (Insert cute little whinny.)

the stockholm chronicles: chapter two

tambourines and harmonies (in which your narrator attempts to become best friends with american folk singers)

Because nothing cures jet lag like loud music in a small venue, Elen and I went to a concert on my first night in Stockholm. We've both been big She & Him fans for quite some time, so it was just a bonus that we got to see the show together while I was visiting her in Sweden. The Chapin Sisters opened the show with a charming collection of sweet country melodies. We spoke to two of the sisters after the show and found them to be as lovely in person as they were onstage. Sadly, they had to turn down our offer to wreak havoc on Stockholm as they had to immediately board their tour bus to depart for Oslo. Better luck next time I suppose. We'd also hoped to use the night as an opportunity to become best friends with Zooey Deschanel (I've known we were destined to for friendship ever since I learned that her parents took her name from Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger), but she retired straight to the tour bus after the show. Our scheme had been foiled. Failure.

But we still got a great concert out of it. The band was fantastic. M. Ward was a joy to watch and Zooey Deschanel's voice sounded just as great live as it does on their albums. When she walked out onto the stage and settled behind the microphone, I whispered to Elen, "Wow, she's really tiny." "Um, Beth, she's sitting on a stool." Except Elen was wrong! There was no stool! Zooey Deschanel is that little! For someone that small, she still had quite a lot of energy to share. She spent almost the entirety of their set bouncing up and down, clapping and shaking her tambourine. It was kind of like watching a five year-old.

When she asked the crowd how many Swedes were at the show, the audience (almost entirely Swedish) gently clapped and I think someone may have whistled. Of course, she followed that up by asking whether there were any Americans in the audience. I think there were perhaps five or six of us in attendance, but we all screamed at the tops of our lungs to create a din that dwarfed the Swedes. Because Americans? We are very very loud.

a nashville girl in stockholm (in which a swede sings country music with a cute american accent)

Interestingly enough, my most intimate musical experience in Sweden took place in a raucous British pub. Once Elen and I pushed through the throng of drunken rugby fans and teetered down a precarious staircase, we found ourselves in a relatively quiet basement venue with an indie folk atmosphere. Several bands played songs (all in English) inspired by American country music (the Dolly Parton kind, not the Taylor Swift kind). My favorite performer was the evenings emcee, Charlee Porter. No, that's not her real name, but she wanted a stage name that matched her music. Her songs reminded me of Jenny Lewis and a bit of She & Him, but Charlee's voice and earnest songwriting were very much her own. She had almost completely mastered that slight American twang, except for when she sang about her little country house and pronounced "country" as "cown-try." It was painfully endearing.

We chatted after the show and I was surprised that although she sings with such a strong American accent, she still speaks English with a heavy Swedish accent. It was just another one of her characteristics that I found completely adorable. When I asked her if it was difficult to write lyrics in a language other than her native tongue, she surprised me by revealing it's much easier for her to write lyrics in English. Not only do many Swedes sing in English to reach a larger audience, it is often a more natural writing process since such a majority of the music they listen to growing up is American or British.

After the show, Elen and I shared some Jameson with a fellow ex-pat until the bar closed. It was time to take Elen home and put her to bed. (She has had maybe two drinks since she's been abroad, so any tolerance she once had has completely evaporated. Give the girl two beers and it's time to put her down for a nap.) Once she passed out in her bed and was softly snoring, I read for about three hours. Because apparently I don't sleep in Sweden.

"so happy i could die" (in which your narrator dies and goes to heaven...disco heaven)

Lady Gaga's Monster Ball stopped in Stockholm the day before my birthday, so Elen and I decided that we were fated to attend. Despite the chilly rain, hundreds of fans huddled outside The Globe Arena, creating an ocean of umbrellas. Unfortunately, umbrellas were the one item not allowed inside the venue, so as the crowds filed into the arena, enormous umbrella graveyards accumulated to the side of every entrance. Since Elen and I had assigned seats, we eschewed waiting in line and instead spent the hour before the show having a quick bite at McDonald's (for strength!) and pounding a Red Bull and vodka at a local bar (for energy!). Once we were suitability buzzed and caffeinated, we jittered to our seats just in time for the lights to drop.

As was expected, the production featured elaborate costume and set design. The show followed Gaga on her harrowing journey for fame. It was kind of like The Wizard of Oz, but with more profanity. We followed her through gritty urban jungles and dark haunted forests. She transformed from vixen to nun to fairy, then back again. There were times when I felt like I was watching a movie; it seemed impossible that the show was happening right in front of me.

The lady herself pleaded like a demented Tinkerbell as she collapsed onstage and begged for the audience to clap for her to save her life. "Are you really going to let me fucking die!?!" she screamed as the crowd roared. The dancing spectacles were predictably fantastic, but where the star really shined was at the piano. As she sat at her pyrotechnic baby grand, her cries rang out lovely and clear, enthralling the audience. When she pounded the keys and raised her voice, her simple pop ballads became anthems. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

Elen's four year-old niece has since learned to sing "Gaga oh la la!" This pleases me.

If you missed chapter one, here you go!
more adventures from Sweden to follow...

sponsored by roy g. biv

Cameron Diaz in Oscar de la Renta at the L.A. premiere of Shrek Forever After

Zoe Saldana in Lanvin at the L.A. premiere of Death at a Funeral

Whitney Port in Rachel Roy at Nylon's Young Hollywood Party

Chloe Sevigny in Proenza Schouler at the Costume Institute Gala (with the designers: Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez)

Amanda Seyfried at the L.A. premiere of Letters to Juliet

Michelle Monaghan in Andrew Gn at the L.A. premiere of Prince of Persia

Carey Mulligan in RM by Roland Mouret at the Wall Street 2 photo call in Cannes

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the call of the north

Since I follow Ron Perlman's career with harmless obsession, I saw The Last Winter on his CV when it was still in pre-production. I was delighted to learn that Connie Britton (Tami Taylor!) and Zach Gilford (Matthew Saracen!) were also in the cast. If you don't watch Friday Night Lights, that will mean nothing to you, but it means a whole lot to me. Though the movie was never released in Minneapolis, I read through every review I could find. Though I was intrigued, the reviews were frustratingly vague. Despite everything I'd read, I still couldn't figure out what the movie was actually about.

Here's what I knew: A crew is sent to Northern Alaska to prepare a site for oil drilling. Environmental scientists are also appointed to the team. Conflict appropriately ensues. That much was basic enough. Then members of the team begin to die due to mysterious circumstances. Mysterious circumstances? Like ghosts? Do they go cabin fever and murder each other? Did they unearth some rare zombie infection from beneath the frozen tundra? Is Mother Nature getting pissed off like she did in The Happening? IS IT A WENDIGO?! (I kind of think everything is a wendigo.)

Cut to A Tiny Machine a few years later as she discovers that The Last Winter is available to watch instantly on Netflix. Holla! Even on my little laptop, the cinematography immediately created an atmosphere of urgent loneliness as it swept across the Alaskan tundra. The miles of eerie white blankness were both quietly beautiful and vaguely unsettling. With the ice stretching on forever, the crew's housing was a tiny speck on the landscape. The cramped quarters and the infinite whiteness worked together to build a disturbing sense of claustrophobia. As the team members began to die, the sense of isolation increased to a deafening level.

Throughout the movie, I couldn't help shivering under my blanket. The dialogue was sparse, and director/co-writer/producer Larry Fessenden relied on graceful camerawork to maintain the moody atmosphere. After it ended I felt cold and vaguely unsettled. The story was so quiet and gradual that I didn't notice how completely tense I was until the closing credits drifted onto the screen. Unfortunately, it would be cheap of me to spoil it for you and reveal the crew's antagonist. (Besides, if you really want to know you can look up the summary on wikipedia all on your own.) But I can tell you that The Last Winter is an incredibly well-acted low-budget indie with believable conflict and plenty of moments that will send chills down your spine. It's the thinking woman's horror movie.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

hungry like the wolf

As an avid fan of The Descent, I'd been meaning to watch Neil Marshall's cult film Dog Soldiers for quite a while. So when I stumbled upon it on television in Sweden, I knew it was time. And that is how my best friend Elen and I ended up spending an evening doing the exact same thing in Stockholm that we do in Minneapolis: watching horror movies and drinking red wine.

Dog S0ldiers takes place in the Scottish Highlands, where a group of British soldiers is slated to compete against a special forces unit in a routine training exercise. While scouting through the forest, the soldiers locate the shredded remains of the special forces team. The only survivor is the injured Captain Ryan, who appears to be in shock. Shortly after, the men are attacked by vicious carnivores that, due to the heavy brush and some frenetic Evil Dead-style camera work, remain a mystery to the audience. Sergeant Wells is disemboweled by one of the beasts, but the surviving soldiers carry him and Ryan to a nearby road. They are rescued by Megan, a zoologist who is living in the remote area to study the local werewolf legend. She drives them to a deserted farmhouse where the soldiers tend to their wounded and prepare to defend themselves against the vicious werewolves that have surrounded them.

Part of what makes Dog Soldiers work is that it's perfectly content to fit into the typical horror movie formula. Marshall doesn't waste time trying to subvert the genre or show off his cleverness. And since he's situated comfortably in an established plot arc, he can focus his energy elsewhere. The movie has plenty of fun with war movie cliches, but shifts effortlessly from engaging humor to quiet suspense to graphic violence. The fight scenes are kinetic, particularly when a soldier faces off with one of the canines in hand to hand combat.

Would you look that badass if you were about to get into a fistfight with a werewolf? I'm guessing not. This guy is my hero. Maybe Dog Soldiers won't change your life, but its cult status is well-deserved. Besides, decent werewolf flicks are hard to come by. I take what I can get.

death at a funeral

Art-A-Whirl weekend kicked off with a fashion show in the Thorp Building with a retrospective of local fashion veteran Kerry Riley's work. "The Death of Red Shoe" commemorated her successful clothing line Red Shoe Clothing Co., and also gave the designer a chance to publicly announce that she is relaunching her designs under the new label Needle & Black.

As is an issue with many retrospective-style shows, the presentation felt slightly disjointed as it veered between the dramatic and the casual, the wearable and the couture. However, the looks provided an engaging summary of the designer's history in The Twin Cities. Riley's unique leather harnesses punctuated the collection, while her infinitely wearable jersey dresses in stripes and solids highlighted the chic accessibility that the designer has made her signature.

Riley's breezy summer dresses can be easily dressed up or down, and as the models sauntered through the open-air venue, I couldn't help but imagine spending the summer biking around the lakes in a Kerry Riley dress, wedge-heeled sandals and a straw fedora.

Red Shoe's swan song culminated with an ethereal dress that fluttered in the breeze as the model floated down the aisle on a summery swing. The finale gown's cathedral-length train danced as it caught the air, a suitability dramatic closing for such a successful local line.

Ever the gracious host, Riley closed the show with a few words about the line and many thanks to her family and friends. I was reminded of something that I often take for granted in the cities: Though plenty of our talented local designers continue to have great success, through and through, they are a humble and kind-hearted bunch. It's our very own version of "Minnesota nice."

[All photos by Stacy Schwartz]

Originally published at

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

the stockholm chronicles: chapter one

disaster strikes (in which your narrator is embarrassingly irresponsible)

My flights to Amsterdam and Stockholm were pretty uneventful. The volcanic ash was light. The wine was free. The in-flight movie screens were teeny tiny. I did sit next to a lovely Norwegian named Mari, who is afraid of flying and spent our take-off and landing clutching my hand in a vice-like grip. Apparently, fear of flight knows no language barrier. Upon my arrival my best friend Elen was there to greet me and take me home to her apartment where I promptly fell asleep on her bed. All was well for the first couple of days, until I made an alarming discovery. My passport was gone. Yes my friends, I lost my passport. The traveller's worst nightmare. I didn't tell anyone other than Elen right away as 1) I didn't want anyone to worry about me (especially my mother), and 2) I was horribly embarrassed. It's one thing to have your passport stolen, but in Sweden, robberies occur about as often as I clean my apartment. Very rarely. When anything embarrassing happens, my first instinct is complete denial. But over the years I've learned that the best way to get over a mortifying experience is to have a laugh at your own expense and then tell your tale, both so that your friends and family can get in on laugh and also so that they can learn from your mistakes.

The last time I'd had my passport out of my bag was when I boarded my flight in Amsterdam. Since I didn't need to take it out again, it was a few days before I noticed that it was missing. Upon that discovery, I uttered some un-ladylike curse words, then gulped down the panic and went to the Stockholm U.S. Embassy website. I'd hoped to give them a call, just to hear a reassuring voice and have someone walk me through the process, but the American Embassy in Stockholm only takes phone calls from 1:00 to 2:00 pm on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I know, right? Their offices are only open from 9:00 to 11:00 am, and so it was here that I learned my first lesson: American Embassies have bizarre hours. I learned on their website that I would need to come in with new passport photos, a police report for the lost passport, as well as all identification that I had brought with me to Sweden. The police report was easy enough. Again, Swedes seem to be missing the crime gene that's so prevalent in America, so the station was quiet and I think the woman who assisted me was just excited to have something to do. The process was quick and painless. What was not as easy was getting my passport photo.

You see, for some reason, American passports use a different size photograph than, um, pretty much every other country. So not only do you need to find an establishment that can take your picture, you've got to find one that offers American sizing. If you check a U.S. Embassy website and it mentions that there is a passport photo machine in their building: DO NOT BELIEVE THEM! They will have one, but it will be broken. By the time Elen and I located an establishment that could accommodate my needs, it was eight minutes til close. We broke into a powerful sprint-walk, and though the doors were closing just as we arrived, a friendly employee took pity on us and let us inside. This is why my temporary passport features a photograph of me in which my bangs are wind-blown and my face is a bright cherry red. I look forward to taking a new picture shortly.

Once I had the necessary documents, it was time to give my friendly American Embassy a visit. Losing your passport is a stressful experience, but I knew that when I crossed over that threshold to American soil, I'd feel safe and reassured. I took the bus over to the Stockholm street that may as well be known as "Embassy Row." It was bordered by a lush green park, and the embassies themselves were beautiful dark brick buildings. The air was brisk and the sidewalk was wet from rain the night before. As I walked past Italy, South Korea, and Germany, I knew everything was going to be okay. Then I saw the American Embassy. You'll know the United States Embassy becuase in this sea of friendly architecture and foliage, it is the giant gray rectangular building that looks straight out of the Eastern Bloc. It is an oasis of depressing bureaucracy. My favorite feature was that, unlike the other embassies, visitors have to line up outside a guard station on the sidewalk. You can't go in and wait. I queued up with other Americans and the Swedes applying for visas and waited. For a while. The brisk chill that I'd been enjoying earlier settled into an unfriendly cold as the rain resumed. As we all hopped in place, trying to stay warm, the guards finally began to call us one by one to go through security. Inside was a waiting room full of cranky people, both American and Swedish, and I can tell you that I will never complain about the DMV again. It was hot, crowded, and there were crying babies everywhere. Fortunately I'd brought a book with me, so I did my best to tune out my surroundings and catch up on my reading. Eventually someone took down my information, and told me that my passport would be ready by 2:00 pm. Finally, I was approaching the homestretch.

the American Embassy in Stockholm, looking as chipper as it gets

Since I had a couple of hours to kill, I settled in at a Japanese restaurant and consumed copious amounts of sushi. I continued to devour my novel as well, but I decided that I should head back so that I could be back at the embassy early. I arrived about half til 2:00 and approached the guard booth. "We don't let anyone in until 2:00." "Not even to wait inside for a passport?" "No. 2.00. Exactly." I was stuck outside in the cold. Again. I should have stayed at the restaurant. At least this time I was first in line. When the guards finally let me go through security at five past the hour, I made my approach to the dreaded waiting room of waiting. It was completely deserted. I was alone and it was disconcerting. Free of the previous throng, the room had actually become quite cold, so I snuggled up in a corner chair and waited for my name to be called. I thought about getting a snack or a soda, but all of the vending machines were empty. There also did not appear to be a restroom. An employee finally came over to let me know that they were having computer issues and that I would have to wait another hour, so I continued to wait and shiver.

When my passport was ready, a wave of relief washed over me. Sure, I looked like crap in my new photograph, but it was only temporary. Now that I've shared my story, I hope that you, dear reader, can learn from my experience and know what to do if you ever lose your passport in a foreign country. But I will remind you, the best strategy is to never lose it at all. I know I'll never lose mine again, since as soon as I receive my new permanent passport I am having it surgically implanted in my forearm. Getting it renewed might be a little painful, but at least I'll have peace of mind.

more adventures from Sweden to follow...