Sunday, May 31, 2015

Quickie Review - Ivan's Childhood and its possible influence on Terrence Malick

Ivan's Childhood is Andrei Tarkovsky's first film and in some people's mind's his first half film, as the movie was apparently started and he took over, adding some dream sequences, a love triangle and his ending. It is in fact, the shortest and easiest to swallow of Tarkovsky's films and gave us inkling into what was to come. In many minds, Tarkovsky peaked with The Mirror (often called Mirror) and in from a visceral standpoint, this is true. While watching Ivan's Childhood I kept thinking of Terrence Malick and how this film's simplicity and power matched that of Badlands and how Andrei Rublev somewhat felt like the epic attempt in The Thin Red Line. Innocence and War (inner and literal). Malick's masterpiece, Tree of Life, with all it's heavy symbolism, has scenes that resemble so many I saw in the Tarkovsky's work, especially the mirror. The parallels are just to numerous to ignore.

Getting back to Ivan's Childhood, it is important to remember that we're dealing with Russian films and they had to be made a certain way. It is also important to note that Tarkovsky refused to cut his films, because they would lose his message. In some minds, he came along at the perfect time. Ivan hinges on the performance of Nikolay Burlyaev, who was 15 at the time and had never acted. Knowing this is a surprise, because it's arguably one of the greatest performances by a child in the history of film. His first few scenes are mesmerizing and the only knock on the film as whole, was my desire for more of his presence. The film jumps between war and dreams of a better time and is done so with such beauty, at times you swear there are glimmers of color within the black and white stock. The use of shadows and light are exquisite and I promise you'll remember this film the next time you gaze at a birch tree. In the end, the film is quite simple and moving and is everything this viewer looks for in a film. It's noted by many as his worst, but I'd argue it might be his second or third best. For a man who made seven films, five of which I've seen and none not brilliant in some way, worst and best are ridiculous descriptions. It's something that must be seen, possibly coupled with The Mirror, to see his growth, both in direction and viewpoint. Like Malick he loves to show innocence being challenged and maybe it's his innocence that most modern day viewers didn't connect with.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Free Writing - Take 86

I sleep four hours in the morning and about two in the early evening. That's my new sleep schedule. I like it, but I know it needs to end and reality needs to settle in. The reality is the scariest thing, because being behind the eight ball would be a blessing at this point. This is more like a bowling ball. So used to something small coming along and bailing me out temporarily, but it's always been because of who I knew. I feel at times like I don't know anyone anymore. I laid in bed today, thinking about a BBQ. Three people and the best food and drink ever. Not a single thing mattered that day, but the three people there. I think of all three of us and how far different our lives are. Happier, but alone. Free, but limited. Independent, but tied down by routines we've grown used to, neither in a bad way, nor a good. I think about why we were happy back then and why I don't feel that way about other situations. Honestly, when I think about that day and night, it was the most fun I've had in five years, that didn't include intimacy. We'll end on that note, before I truly become depressed.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Quickie Reviews - Still Alice, Locke, Europa Report, The Blue Room, The Rover

Still Alice garnered one of my favorite actresses a best actress Oscar. Here's the problem. This was an obvious makeup year, because Patricia Arquette's "supporting" role in Boyhoood was miles ahead of Moore. Moore played someone with a disease though and we know how the academy loves those types. Still Alive is depressing, but it's not poignant and it's biggest failure, is in the irony of its title.

Locke is one man show. It is being hailed a great psychological drama and the "eegads" cliche, that even someone close to me used, Tour de Force, is being thrown around recklessly. It's a silly film, with Hardy's restraint being hailed as genius. As someone who believes Hardy is one of the three or four most exciting actors in the world, this film does nothing to embrace his charisma. In fact, the absolute disgrace of the film is that we never feel empathy towards Ivan Locke and that kills the entire movie.

Europa Report is one of those films, that has gotten a lot of positive publicity. The odd thing for me is that what it praised in the film, isn't present. There is no revelation, their is no pretentious lesson and there is nothing other than this is us and this is what's out there and never shall the two meet. I know you could dissect it and find little sparks, but the movie runs its course with very few peaks and valleys and in the end, we wonder why they told us all we needed to know in the first eight minutes.

The Blue Room is a French crime drama that all starts with a torrid affair. Not an original idea, it plays out like Body Heat on a slower burn. The film shows open crotches shot, a dangling penis and a lot of driving. It sounds awful, but the reality is, for fifty minutes, it's pure brilliance. It's carefully told in flashbacks and we feel for everyone involved and we sense there's so much more to everyone's story. Then there is a crucial scene that sets the plot spinning. We sit forward in our chairs, expecting fireworks, sexual tension and lustful deeds and what we get is a final fifteen minutes of courtroom drama that leaves us utterly flat. What's even more impressive than how cheated we feel, is how many people loved it, thinking the end was something it wasn't. At 70 minutes, it's not going to make you too mad, but pay attention, because color play a huge part in this film.

The Rover is equal parts Mad Max, Animal Kingdom (also directed by Michod) and another movie, I won't mention, because it gives away the ending. Here's the thing. This film is so beautifully filmed, the acting is solid and the script, while simple and at times repetitive, works in many ways. The music, yes even that silly song, works perfectly. The problem however is the absolutely ludicrous plot, which when the big reveals takes place, will leave some clawing their eyes out and others miffed. Of course there will be some who knew it all along and will either laugh like I did or take something personal away from it. The movie is 100 minutes, but feels no more than an hour. If you're going to hate it, because of Pattinson, don't watch, because it's easy to dismiss his portrayal, but he works it perfectly.

I have so many movies I really want to write real reviews for. Fruitvale Station, La Heine and The Mirror to name a few. I might also have to get my hands on Under Her Skin again. It's still rattling around in my brain and won't let me sleep. I can't even see Scarlett Johansson for the amazing beauty she is, because of this film. She's an actress now and one of the highest quality.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Clicking "LIke" For Racism

You sign on to Facebook and your friend has posted a funny picture of a kitten, you click like. Then you see someone posted a video of their daughter's recital and you click like. Then you see a notice about a man who traveled 200 miles by bicycle to raise money for his neighbor and you click like. Then you see a story about a crime and it's sad, because people died and your friend started their post off with the words "this needs to stop" and you clicked like. 

An hour goes by. The comments begin with words like "thugs," "savages" and "animals." One person says they won't say the word, but they want to. It continues, maybe five hours later, there are 30 horrifyingly racist comments. Each comment and like brings it to the top of the news feed. It is trending basically in your little world of people. Everyone has joined this odd crusade against an entire race, because of a single crime. 

I sign on an there is the thread at the top of my feed. Your name is the first I see, followed by "and 22 others liked this." I stare at your name. It's the only one I recognize and the 22 others mean nothing. Your name is attached to it. Maybe you clicked first, maybe you joined in. I don't know, but it's there with all the others. You may say you don't care, but you're a racist in my book. You agree with the general consensus and you have liked what transpired. You are forever going to be viewed differently. You're a teacher, a nurse, a fireman, a police officer and mother or father. You are a racist, commending others on their racism and you want me to view you differently? Will you teach "them" differently? Will you offer "them" less care? Will you try as hard to save "them" or protect and serve "them?" Will you teach your kids about us or will you teach about you and "them."

Next time you're going to "like" something, ask yourself this one simple question. If someone this article is portraying poorly was sitting in front of me, would I be willing to vocalize my acceptance and appreciation of it? Is it really as easy to condemn a race, as it is to be entertained by a kitten?
I click like all the time, but I know what I'm clicking and yes, I do often go back and make sure there is nothing derogatory on it. Sad? Maybe, but I'd rather that than to have someone who I care about and who cares about me, have their belief and trust in me destroyed by others hate. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hooray For Geek Pride Day

I got a little frustrated yesterday with people posting about Geek Pride and announcing themselves geeks. They made posts, usually using other people's words, implying they take pride in this label. Everyone should take pride in whatever label suits them, but there in lies the key phrase, "suits them."

The real issue I have is that every hipster out there believes they are a geek. A geek is revered in today's culture, because their love for something, usually one thing in particular, is so intense, they exude a mastery of it. Being a geek involves some serious knowledge of said topic, but also realizing that it's not just because it's cool, but because it's not.

Guys like saying they are sports geeks, but that's just silly. So many people like sports, that even those, like myself, with extensive knowledge of a particular sport aren't really geeks, they're just super fans. This isn't the same. Neither is liking a band that is popular. Sorry kids, loving Radiohead and having all their music on German vinyl doesn't make you a geek, it makes you a fan. An odd one, but Radiohead is so mainstream now, it's not like you're even considered slightly weird. You're a hipster who decided not to give up on your group, just because they "sold out." DMB, ZBB and bands like Arcade Fire are similar, in that they are so popular, hipsters have just given up.

No, a geek is someone is devoted to a subject and not only shows a passion for it, but extensive knowledge. My buddy Jimmy is a perfect example. Mention X-Men movies to him and he'll tell you that this isn't possible in the 3rd movie, because in the comics, Wolverine hadn't met, some character, meaning he didn't know about this place or that place. This guy will confuse you and having you wonder if these mutants aren't real. He's also got the tattoos to match and probably a few other things I don't want to know about.

People who love something so dearly, that it becomes a part of them, but not to the point they feel the need to tell others about it every chance they get, these are geeks. They find someone else with similar interests and it's more than just a high five, a devil's horns or a nod, it's a full blown orgasmic conversation where anyone within earshot just shakes their head, possibly in disapproval. They laugh at your pedestrian knowledge and look down on you like a level 3 magician in Dungeons and Dragons.

So praise all the geeks out there, especially those select few horror fans I love to follow, but cautiously and allow them their day (I know, yesterday), but don't forget....fuck those hipsters. Because next week they'll be on to the next band to fawn over, while those geeks will be in search of a geeky mate who find Klingon sexy pillow talk.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Random Thoughts On Memorial Day Morning

Flags and crying eagles will be posted by those who vote for politicians who are keeping our vets from getting jobs, health care and housing. Flying the flag isn't being patriotic, helping others to better the country are. Especially when those in need, made the sacrifice so you didn't have to.

My face has broken out again and this might be the worst it's been. I'd thought it was OK and maybe I could get by without going back on the medication, but right now my cheeks look as though I've been attacked by a swarm of bees. I hate this.

People love to use the cliche, life is short. I have a challenge for all of those people. If life is short, give up watching television between 7pm and 11pm every single evening for one year. Tell me then if you think life is short. The amount of time we spend, doing nothing is frightening and the mindless devices we use to pass the time, if taken away, leave us with many more hours in the day than we can possibly conceive. Try it for one full week. Trust me, you'll be shocked how long life seems.

I told someone the other day that I have not had a French fry in 11 months. I've also not gotten drunk, eaten a good slice of pizza, walked more than a few yards, hugged or kissed a friend or just spent time with someone talking about anything even remotely meaningful to me. It's amazing how many times I've had to feign interest in someone else's tedious tales. Even that is gone and it's weird, you get used to yourself. I'm not a self talker, but maybe I am, just not vocally. I do thank a small handful who have recently reminded me what humor is and not just the pretense of humor, actual humor.

It's been ages since I've been to a proper BBQ, with food, drink and silly lawn games. Maybe a pool, which I'd ignore, but sitting in the hot sun, enjoying life. I think about the greatest BBQ I've ever been to. Three people, then briefly four. How much has changed and how much I loved that day and revisit it.

I don't know if someone has been just being cryptic in their own stupid way or if they are attempting to hurt me. I do know this, I don't care and I truly mean that. I've forgotten that friendship, which was entirely based on my forgiving and forgetting. That part of my life is over. I've been doing it since I was a child. I just wish I wasn't so stubborn a decade ago.

The vote on marriage equality made me realize how awful the people in our country can be. How were we not the pioneering country in this? How is France fining restaurants for food waste and America leads the world in it? Why are we so chronically behind the times and why do we continue to call ourselves the best country in the world. What are we best at?

I've joked with a friend that I can not be a parent, because all my most delicious dishes look like dirt. I made something that was so delightful the other night, but it looked like something that was pulled out of the clogged drain. It smelled like two different cultures colliding and resembled two trains doing likewise. What kid would eat this food, let alone say they liked it? I need a lesson on presentation. Why is all my food brown?

If anyone wants to know what the key to life is. It's sitting with a small group of people, who you want to share your time and thoughts with and not ever stopping to wonder what anyone who isn't there is doing. It's about that simple. I need to get back to that.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Free Writing - Take 85

I try to be funny, sarcastic, clever, kind, empathetic and sympathetic, but I've noticed as of late, my messages aren't being processed. It doesn't matter if I say them openly, privately, in print or spoken word. They are constantly misconstrued and it's starting to get to me. I'm going to start to dumb down my comment. I like this. I hate this. I like this person or I don't. I'm no longer going to pretend to like someone I don't for another's sake and while that might sound harsh, I sit and read and listen to your BS about "life being too short." Well, life is long and carrying around friends for someone else, is a burden. Since the beginning of the week, I cut three out of my life and I'm not going to lie. I have slept better. There are more to go and this isn't some silly random claim. There are some of you I owe more than this to and I don't ever forget that, but those who have wronged me, distracted me, compromised my happiness or quite simply, bore or disgust me, have to go. I'm not on some crazy rampage, but I'm tired of losing sleep as it is. To do so for people not worth my breath, let alone my mental health, well, you all should understand. I'm also going to try and be a little more vocal in a positive way for those out there who are struggling. Not openly, but privately. Those who know, understand I do truly care about a lot more people than I "show." Please don't assume I'm talking about you. If you ever asked me to tell you what I like or dislike about you, I'd be more than happy and I promise I'll be open. I'll shut up now, as this has turned into the ramblings, normally filling empty spaces and promises on a Facebook wall. Goodnight! Yes, it's my night-time.

Quickie Review - Primer

I was told this was the single most confusing movie, from start to finish. I was told there are complex themes and it's almost impossible to follow. I was also told this is the greatest time travel movie ever. Obviously, not all of these were said by the same person, but as of late, this film has been heavily hyped. Sadly, it didn't live up to any of it. It felt almost as if the writer got tired of the complex script and as the movie goes along, the script becomes so basic, it becomes boring. The narrative is lost and the reasons for their experiments become so skewed, that when things go wrong, some are explained and some aren't. There are tons of errors, should one look closely enough and sadly, the basic theme of knowledge being power, turns into the cliche of "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." The saving grace is that the movie isn't longer than it needs to be, but it would have been better explained had the entire movie taken place within the same six hours, not the 3-4 days. All this being said, for the budget, it was quite impressive and I'd definitely recommend it to friends who like thought-provoking films, but it's hardly what it was advertised.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Problem With Andrei Tarkovsky

As of this very moment, I have seen four of his seven feature films. Unfortunately, I've yet to see his first film, Ivan's Childhood and thus can't truly speak about how far he has come from the beginning. I have heard it is his worst film by many, but one person has told me it is her favorite. The first film I had ever seen of his was Stalker. It is painfully slow at the beginning and you feel your frustration rising, but in the final 35 minutes, this flower blooms and you realise the voyage was what made it worth it. I followed this up with Solaris and I'm in agreement with the director's own views that it might be his worst. That being said, the imagery and tension felt is effective and the movie simply works. I then went a while without seeing one of his films and then within the past few days, I've tackled two of his more well known and revered films, The Mirror and Andrei Rublev.

In a recent poll, The Mirror (or simply Mirror) was hailed as one of the ten best films of all-time by a list of over 350 directors. After seeing it, I must say, it is visually and mentally stimulating as any I've seen, but it's impossible to describe. To simple watch it is useless. I found myself flipping back to review scenes and pay careful attention to the language (the subtitles are awful). What I came away with was this passion for storytelling, but in the sense of true recollection. Where one story begins, but the orator isn't confined by rules. The mirror follows no linear path and jumps in time and point of view. Its greatest power is movement, whether it be the wind in the grass, water flowing (a Tarkovsky trademark) or in one case a fire. Many think an homage to Kurosawa, but I beg to differ. Do I think the average movie goer will enjoy this film? Not a chance, because as it ends, you're left with wondering what you'll take from it the next time, but if you do like it, you'll have to see it again. My first reaction to it was the need to own it. Something I personally frown upon, when it comes to movies.

Tonight i dove headfirst into Andrei Rublev. At three hours and twenty-five minutes and in a strange, almost half sized letterbox screen, it was a task. Not one I suggest, as the movie is easily broken up into smaller sections (as many as eight, should you desire), that you try and swallow whole. Rublev is consider anywhere from one of the three or four greatest movies to somewhere in the high 20's, depending on which list you use. Obviously, something like IMDB, which caters to a younger, more current fan base, won't have it as high, but that's not to discourage you. It is an important movie to see, for historical purposes, both in the movie's content and in film making. I will now state, that I disagree. This is not a great film, it's an long, repetitive film and isn't nearly as complex as Tarkovsky's other works. It's actually quite simple and I will admit, that I brushed up on the time period, using the timeline on the actual DVD for reference. The acting is wonderful and the story is solid, but it's nothing new and nothing that hasn't been tackled as well, sans the Russian view. But this isn't where I'll get arguments with other viewers, because liking a movie is sibjective, assuming you understand it. My problem is where people draw comparisons.

Amateur movie viewers will immediately say it feels like Kurosawa, Bergman and maybe even Buenel, but it doesn't in any way. Tarkovsky went out of his way, not to copy his contemporaries, because of the mutual admiration. Bergman called Tarkovsky the most important film maker to ever live and the feeling was mutual. I saw many more similarities, in style, to Dreyer and Mizoguchi. The need for people to compare every faith and devotion based movie with Wild Strawberries or Seven Samurai is becoming cliche. It's as if everyone who has seen those two movies, feels they understand every inspiration of every director since. While I don't deny the impact of these two movies (as well as countless others), it's more than likely, Tarkovsky went out of his way to avoid such comparisons. The one thing that struck me about the movie, was it's dream sequences, which are not in any way, shown as dreams. This is something Tarkovsky does so well, almost too well at times. It's within these scene that the sheer length of the movie becomes a burden. To keep a keen eye out for all the little moments, the changes in attitude and appearance, you really need to be fixated and even for seasoned veterans of movies such as this, especially with subtitles. It's draining.

This is where I get back to the subject line. The problem with Tarkovsky isn't his brilliance. His film making skills are second to none. His ability to convey strong messages, without limited dialogue or to use music, poetry and simply movement in nature, is amazing. His framing of shots, addition of objects into scenes (some from previous movies) all ties his life's work, with his life and more importantly the life of Russia together. It's all brilliance that puts him into a select group in the history of film. The problem is how you feel after his films. You can not just turn of the TV, grab a snack and got to bed. No, the movie ended six hours ago and I'm running it over in my head. I'm running over all of the four I've seen. I've more questions now than I did six hours ago and I'll have even more after twelve. My eyes are heavy and my body aches, as if I've competed against something. This may for others be a joy, but for me, the enjoyment of film is not to want to research the 1400's, but to feel informed. Satisfied with the story and it's angles. I don't feel at all like that. I feel beaten and confused. Not by the content, but by the overload my senses have taken. Never before would I have thought, that I'd look back and laugh at comparisons to the likes of Akira and Ingmar, but their films almost feel simple, dare I say light, in comparison Yet in the end, they are also, for the most part, better and that's the problem I have with Andrei.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Free Writing - Take 84

Thank you for the laughs, those who make me laugh. Today was a rough day. It's funny when you have to deal with people who are never wrong. I had to deal with this at work for years and I'm dealing with it again. I know people will say I'm speaking of myself, but the reality is, if you know me, you know I'm easily humbled, just throw a fact in once in a while. I've listened to a lot of people over the past few years and they all have excuses, as we all do. It's not healthy to always take the blame and it's not always healthy to blame. This I know and this is something none of us should fall victim to. Especially those who blame themselves. What amazes me though is when certain people are confronted and you watch them. There body language, their eyes, but most importantly what they react to. You could rattle off a laundry list of things they've done wrong, but watch what they react to most. If it's their real problem, you'll notice they become rigid. You can call someone every name in the book, but if you touch on that Achilles heal, you've figured them out. One person once hit that chord with me and the rest, well the rest was not something I'm proud of. What really troubles me though, is when the one thing that a person reacts to is the one that matters least. It shows where their priorities are and it also shows they don't value your opinion. Believe it or not, I've learned to pick my battles, but I also realize when the person defending themselves doesn't even try, because you don't matter to them as much as them simply ignoring the problem. What I love even more is when you tell someone something and they define a person without knowing them. When it's just that simple to tell something about someone by what they say, react or what comes out in their writing. Interesting that the people who mock this are the ones who are most transparent.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Free Writing - Take 83

My stomach is still doing somersaults from the awful piece of fish I ate tonight. As I described in a short lived Facebook status, it was like licking salt off your hand before a shot of tequila, but only to have the liquor replaced with the worst tasting vegetable oil imaginable. Absolutely disgusting. I was so looking forward to that fish too. A nice mustard-dill, honey-soy, or maybe even a light poach in olive oil and some lemon. I guess it could be worse, but why was it even cooked? So many unexplained questions lately. The doors constantly left open in an area known for random break-ins, the lights left on, but the computer shut off. Then the other, not suitable for even this blog. I wonder sometimes where people's minds are. I am guilty too, I'm terrible at calling people back or dealing with bills, but then again, I can't afford them and that's my cross to bear, one I'll most likely never get off my back. But today wasn't all bad, despite the food horrors. I had people reach out and say hello. Two beautiful friends who made my day, then a third, a fourth and fifth and sixth. Nice to be cared about by lovely looking women. Even if they are all taken. I'll take it. I only want friendship these days anyway. So the movie train keeps rolling and some are good and some are bad, but it's keeping my mind working. A puzzle here and there and at least I'm not repeating the same process every single day. The same mundane routine, cleverly tricking us into feeling it's new. I've not shared a meal with anyone in a while and when I do it's chatter about the weather or something someone else said. When did people stop forming their own opinions. Facebook is now life. People wait to see what others think and then comment. They pick their little person to be obsessed about and then they covet their words, like little school girls giggling in the yard. I'll never understand it. Here's a forum, whether it be social media or life, to choose your own thoughts, your own expression and your own words and yet, even those you'd least expect, cater their thoughts, expressions and words to those they covet, no matter how painfully ordinary they are. Weird huh? I'll take joking with friends about vacuums, cucumbers and elephants. You can have your obsessions.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Quickie Review - Cube

When this first came out, I had heard it was terrible. Then Internet posts and especially twitter started making this sound like it was the most complex movie ever made. Well, last night I finally saw it and I must admit, I was sorely disappointed. The movie is neither clever, not is it at all claustrophobic. The acting is so poor, especially that of Quentin and Holloway, that the movie is impossible to take seriously. If not for the acting of the Leaven character, it would have been a complete bomb. The real problem isn't in it's ambiguity, it's in it's painfully obvious premise and conclusion.

Assuming everyone has seen this by now, I'm not giving anything away, but by giving each character the name of a prison that defines their personality, we understand that the entire movie is about being trapped inside the life you've chosen. That there is no way out without the help of others. So why not make the movie about that? Why hammer home the point over and over? Why add good and bad? Why throw in the character who didn't chose their path? To me the movie suffers by painfully obvious symbolism and mindless metaphors. The dialogue isn't only simplistic, but tells us early on what the symbols and metaphors mean. I also was distracted by the colors of the boxes and thought a dark, drab, industrial look would have been much more interesting.

I will add this one final thought. I think the comments I read about this movie are proof enough that the movie's greatest asset is thinning the herd. I had heard over and over how this movie stole its idea from Saw. The movie that came out seven years later. As we say in the Cube called social media #smh

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Free Writing - Take 82

Been a while since I've written anything from my mind, my heart or any other aching body part. Amazing how self absorbed people can be, that even without speaking, you realize they haven't been listening. I sigh more than ever. I mop the floor with paper towels, like I've done over and over, wondering where the mythical little six year old might be hiding. I wipe down the dirt, adding it to the trash that contains my instructions for avoiding such mess. I cringe, as I look inside at the rotting food, all waiting to be thrown away, I hesitantly add two potatoes that have colors never meant for the spud universe. I throw open a door and I'm hit with the smell of mildew. I sit in an empty room and I say hello, just to make sure it still works. Like that tree in the forest. The movie turns off and I think about the solitude and I'm jealous, because at least when you're alone, you don't have to deal with the selfishness of others. The sun rises and I crawl into bed, doing my best to avoid another chat about the weather.

Quickie Review - Wild

Wild is not the greatest movie ever made and it may not even be the greatest movie about self exploration, but it works on every level. It also cemented my opinion that Reese Witherspoon is a great actress. If you decide to see it, I implore you, do not read reviews or message boards, because anti-feminist America doesn't like, nor do they understand this movie. They can't handle a movie that is so complex, yet formed on the simple premise, that in life, we have only two directions in which we can go; we can go forward or we can go back. There is nothing else. Who we take with us, allow us to help or hinder us, is inconsequential, because in the end, we can make the decision that is difficult or we can return to what we know. It sounds as if I'm trying to dumb down the film, but if you see it, you'll understand.

Wild is not for everyone. There is no grand epiphany, fireworks or celebration of things coming into focus. There is no visual fight for survival and the dialogue is not necessarily the most riveting. It's simple, sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes just dialogue. There is sex, drugs, music and food. All of these depicted in good ways and bad. There is fear and overcoming of said fear and you feel it throughout. It is about women, not just a woman, but at the same time, it is Cheryl Strayed's story and only hers. To judge her on how she got there, is to miss the entire point of the film.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week

This week has been teacher appreciation week. I've noticed a sad thing, one of which I am guilty too. The only people mentioning this seem to be teachers. Is it because almost every teacher has been whining about the testing recently? Probably, but that doesn't change their importance and their impact, both good and bad, on who we become. I won't get into politics, but one thing that has struck me from private conversations lately, is just how few teachers made an impact on my generation, compared to how much they made on those older than me. The impact on those younger people I know seems almost non-existent. This is something teachers must look into the mirror and face, but again, not my point.

In my life I've had very few teachers who really taught me anything usable in later life. I learned compassion, empathy, reading, writing and arithmetic from my parents. I learned all the little things from others, but very little from actual teachers. I missed my first grade teachers, Mrs. Landau when she grew ill and I enjoyed my 4th grade history teacher, Bob Swacker, his burly beard and tiny glasses made him almost a caricature of a real man. I had others who I liked, but I never had a teacher who made me understand what learning felt like until 6th grade. Ruth Chapman taught me to push myself. She didn't force anything upon us, but she gave us a constant barrage of things to read and write about and what strikes me all these years later was how she taught us criticism. She genuinely wanted us to not only understand what we had read, but to know what we would have done differently. She never handed us our required reading with a preface of "this is a classic," but let us decide what was and wasn't. Off the top of my head, these were the titles we read in 6th grade.

Of Mice and Men
Animal Farm
Catcher in the Rye
Richard III
Midsummer Night's Dream
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Pearl
The Big Wave
Count of Monte Cristo

There were others that escape me now, but that was my 6th grade reading list. I didn't read books of that level for the following six years of school, with possibly the exception of some Shakespeare. Ruth Chapman taught me how to read and then write. To write based on things I had felt, not simply what I had read and because of it, I've become a decent writer myself (so I'm told).

The next teacher I appreciated was as a Freshman in High School. I am blanking on his name, but he was my chorus teacher. In my school, a semester of music was required and I was told to take chorus. I was terrified, because, being a year younger, I had not had that change of voice yet. I entered the class terrified and when he did the voice test, I was the only Alto in the class. I was on the verge of tears. I was shaking and he grabbed my shoulder and said "You can sit with the boys and fake singing or you can sit with the girls and participate, but we need're our only Alto." In one instance he took me weakness and turned it into a positive. I realize now he was only saying it to get me to calm down, but it not only worked, but after out first recital, I was complimented on my voice being heard. I still to this day don't believe that was a good thing for people's ears, but it made me feel empowered. Oh yeah, I took the class a second time and I got to sit next to the girls every day.

My next great teacher came in college. Mr. Ferguson. A religion teacher, who had left his parish after a moment of doubt and then devoted his life to us. He taught me more about religion in two classes than I'd ever learned before and he is the reason I minored in it. He opened up thoughts and ideas that I'd never pondered and he made reading books such as The Bible and The Qu'ran fascinating. He added history and judgement to his lessons and allowed for others to add their experiences, but he did something that you'd never get if you went to Sunday school. He told you if you were wrong. He explained what is taught in church and what is taught in the Bible are two different things and he explained how all religious publications were to stir thought, but also meant to confuse. To give people enough to question their deeds. In layman's terms, to govern. In his classes, he allowed for great debates and people left angry, sometimes before class had ended and he appreciated their rage. Nobody took it personally....OK, one person did, but not bad. He taught me that understanding why people believe the unbelievable goes back to the beginning and it's made me fascinated ever since.

I've had three, maybe for others who had lesser impact on me and I have literally dozens who have had a negative impact on me, but I want those three teachers to understand how much they helped shape who I am today. Apples for all of them!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Quickie Review - A Most Violent Year

I am smitten with Jessica Chastain. From Take Shelter and The Help to Zero Dark Thirty and Mama, her range and ability to be a chameleon dazzled me. One one, somewhat recent visit to Jon Stewart's Daily Show, I also became aware at how funny, intelligent and beautiful she was. I thought she was arguably the best part of Interstellar, which disappointed me and I figured it was a blip on the radar. Then came this.

In an attempt to capitalize on American Hustle, we're given a very simple story, with painfully simplistic symbolism, played out to the backdrop of 1981 NYC. The most violent year on record, according to statistics. Gang wars and mob hits ruled the airwaves and the sex industry and rapes were also at an all-time high. None of this plays any part in the film and the director, I just read, meant it to be a metaphor for each character's personal life. This fails. So to does the cinematography, which has been praised by some. Yellow tint to give an 80's vibe. Sorry, but I don't like my movies like an instagram filter and I like something that at least makes me feel like it's the grimy part of the city, aside from a train station scene and a narrow deserted street.

The real problem isn't the view. It's the acting. Oscar Isaac is the hot guy in town, because he's managed to get roles in Coen Brothers films and a few other nice parts. He's a lead weight in everything he's in. Those who like his abilities use words like subtle, low-key and deliberate. I use, wooden and stiff. He's not comfortable walking on camera and in the first romantic moment between he and his wife (he and Chastain are actually good friends), the viewer feels shocked, because you assumed they were brother and sister or at the very most, boss and secretary. The chemistry is dead and it shows in every scene they share. Even when Chastain is given a juicy scene, she has Isaac to bring us down. Add in the always solemn Albert Brooks and you get what you expect. 1980's NYC and I can't tell you one song that was in the movie, not one street, restaurant, not even a Times Square shot. I realize it's independent, but this was bad. From start to finish it was scene after scene of failure and by the end, I can't help but wonder if Chastain knew it. The big payoff scene is followed by a "oh by the way, you're right" and that is the entire movie in a nutshell. The secondary ending is simply stupid, which plays into 2015's OWS crowd and will turn a few who didn't see it coming into fans. I saw it from scene one and my eye rolls are still giving me headaches.

Jessica, I love you...never again do this!!!

Quickie Review - Selma

Selma might possibly contain the most powerful first five minutes of any movie I've ever seen. In one instant I realized that the director's point was not to walk us through history, but remind us of it's brutality, then walk us through one of its greater triumphs. What resonates is how much was done by MLK and how little has really changed since. Any cable news show in 2015 seems to lead with a story about poverty and persecution, racism and inequality. The deaths continue and only the terms have been changed. Where the movie triumphs is to show that MLK at the end of the day was a man with faults, as was John Lewis, President Johnson and George Wallace. It showed they were creatures of their culture and we surrounded by like minded people and those with the strength to cross over. It was MLK's ability to bring these people together that made him different.

The word hero is the most overused word in the English language. MLK was proven to be a hero, long before he became a martyr and that is important. This movie showed that a hero doesn't have to carry a gun or make an oath to defend, protect or even fight. They can use their will to move mountains and that walk, from Selma to Montgomery, was colossal. The movie honored that and all those who allowed it to be conquered.

I once said Argo was one of the most perfectly directed movies I've ever seen. Selma is now added to that list and Ana Duvernay, like Affleck, has big shoes to fill. When they're your own, it might be harder. Four years later, Affleck hasn't even attempted a follow up. I pray for all of us, he and Duvernay continue their magic. I don't get angered by Oscar snubs, but her not winning might be the biggest Oscar atrocity of all-time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hey Ithaca Students - Just Stop

I'm white, I'm vocal, I demand equality and justice. I also know when is the right time, when is the wrong time and when my voice should just shut the fuck up.

Dear Ithaca and Cornell students,

We know that you're out on your own for the very first time and you want to make a difference, but shutting down Aurora Street with permission from vendors (who profit from passerby traffic) and from IPD, isn't a protest. You playing Kumbaya does nothing to honor Freddie Gray, nor does it speak to the injustice of racism. It's also not cool to not at least show compassion and respect to Brian Moore, who died (today) doing his job of protecting and serving. While you think you're demonstrating for a cause, you're causing more of a problem and you're epitomizing racially inequality. Those people in Baltimore are standing in slums they call home, while you're sitting peacefully and safely on a street in the greenest city and best college town in America. The closest thing you've come to a malatov cocktail being thrown near you, is the hot pocket you overcooked while drunk. So stop.

I'm not saying you shouldn't champion the downtrodden and the oppressed, but do it intelligently. Gather a busload of people and go to Baltimore and use your parent's resources you despise so much. Put a business back together or offer to come back in the summer and tutor children. I don't know, do something other than putting on your khakis and sundresses and sitting on a well lit street without any chance of anything worse than someone forgetting to bring their guitar or book of hood poetry. I realize you think you matter and your voice is being heard, but that journalist from the Ithaca Journal hates interviewing you more than you love placing that flower in your hair. This is not the 60's, the 80's or even the early 2000's. It's 2015 and we have twitter buzzing a million hits a minute and voices are heard in retweets and stars, not in a handful of kids paying $200K for a college education to sing songs.

My grandmother had a nurse who made $11 an hour. This woman did more for others, before noon, than you've done in your lives and she too was going to school. She lived in a trailer, as did two of the three other nurses who helped. Some lived in them their entire lives. You know who you could help and make a huge difference in your community for? Them. Ithaca has a huge drug problem and it's not a secret. Do you care or are you worried that fighting that issue hits too close to home? You'll fight fracking, but you're not the ones getting arrested. That would be seniors and parents, worried about their children's future, your future. Who are you fighting for exactly? Who are you against? If you can't answer this with anything other than a headline or a cliche, you're fighting the wrong fight.

I know what you're saying, strength in numbers, but the reality is, if you combined both schools and every student marched, it might just match what happened in Baltimore. 100% participation and maybe you come close to what they did out of passion, fear and love. Are you willing to die for this belief? If the cops sent a warning that anyone playing guitar and reciting poems in the middle of the street would be maced, beaten and possibly shot, would you have been there in your best Friday night clothes, blankets and cappuccino in tow?

You are not the voice of the next generation. You are quite possibly the last of an entitled group. Remember that, because in 20 years, when kids aren't as lucky as you, because they can't afford to pay a quarter of a million dollars to go away to school, you'll be their employers and as yourself this, "Will you give them the night off to fight the man or will you have become that which you feel has oppressed?


One Voice

Monday, May 4, 2015

April Movies

Moonrise Kingdom was actually the 123rd movie I've watched this year. I started and ended the month with incredible films. It also could have been dubbed the month of Cumberbatch, as I made my way through the first three seasons of the BBC series Sherlock. 
  1. The Imitation Game - A near perfect film. Script, acting and music are amazing. Cumberbatch!
  2. The Drop - Littered with mistakes and red herrings, the film tries for depth the story lacks.
  3. Next Door - Awful Norwegian film with overused premise and awful giveaways.
  4. Killers - Every action plot cliche and gimmick ever, all in one movie. Absolutely ridiculous.
  5. Tiny: A Story about Small Living - Psychobabble aside, great insight into the movement.
  6. Zapped! - Re-watched - Early 80's teen hijinks flick with the Charles in Charge crew.
  7. WolfCop - Shockingly, one of the best B-movies I've seen in a long long time.
  8. Kill The Messenger - Superbly cast and Renner shines, but the last 20 minutes is dreadful.
  9. Godfather II - Re-watched. Top 25 all-time, but those final 45 minutes are magic.
  10. Mama - Re-watched. One of the best horror films of the last decade. Chastain controls it.
  11. The Lunchbox - Amazingly beautiful story, never overstepping its boundaries.
  12. Maniac (1980) - For the budget, still one of the best slasher films ever made. Creepy!
  13. Sherlock (Season 1) - Each episode starts so well, but becomes tedious and silly.
  14. Interstellar - Typical Chris Nolan hype machine. Not 1/100th as complex as advertised.
  15. The Babadook - Nothing new and over-hyped, but it works if you can tolerate the child. 
  16. Sherlock (Season 2) - Better than the first and escalates, but Ep. 1 has Lara Pulver, sigh!
  17. Dogtooth - A bizarre look at obedience, paternal dominance on the danger of naivety.
  18. The Man with the Iron Fists 2 - Not as good as #1, but the music, scenery and action is fun.
  19. Black Sunday - Bava's "classic" is downright awful and boring. Nicely shot, but that is all.
  20. Wing Chun - Martial Arts/Rom-Com (yes really) with Michelle Yeoh. Incredible!
  21. Housebound - New Zealand Horror-Comedy that deliver on every level. 
  22. Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Girl - Sexy El Mariachi style movie with GTA theme.
  23. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night - Awful attempt at artsy vampire tales, forgets story.
  24. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest - Cute animated tail with global message. Kids will love it.
  25. Lucy - Besson Sci-Fi with Scarjo carrying the whole thing. Fun, but downright silly.
  26. Particle Fever - Higgs particle exploration. For true physicists and science geeks only.
  27. Boy - New Zealand coming of age story, reminiscent of Napolean Dynamite, but much better.
  28. A Most Wanted Man - Miscast spy thriller. Uneven, but Rachel McAdams shines.
  29. My Bloody Valentine (1981) - Cult classic is terrible and not horror in any way.
  30. Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time - Inconsistent, but some is hilarious.
  31. Sherlock (Season 3) - Very few shows get better every episode. Oh and Yasmine Akram!
  32. Big Hero 6 - Wonderful Disney Animation, Touching story, great characters and music!
  33. Nightmares in Red, White & Blue - Politically motivated horror history. Dreadful!
  34. Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson at his best. Honesty meets youth. Possibly his best. 

Quickie Reviews - The Hunter & Life Itself

The Hunter is easily one of Willem Dafoe's worst performances. He obviously owed someone a favor or, at the very least, was picturing a different product. Aside from the fact that almost no research seemed to have been done on tracking, Dafoe never comes close to playing the part. What bothered me most is,here is a lifelong loner, a hired gun, mercenary and within 30 minutes, he's so attached to this strange family, he can't stand to be away. Aside from the ridiculous plot, the character development all goes south in the final 25 minutes. Neill goes from being the ominous shady character that is tracking the tracker, to the weepy, nobody understands what I stand for loner. The mistake filled movie then decides to have the worst and in many ways, most predictable ending possible, but instead of leaving the audience with a sense of wonder, it not only displays it, it drags it out for every pretentious second it can. When it's over, you breathe a sigh of relief and then they actually "go there." I love Dafoe, I like Neill and O'Connor is a solid actress when she actually gets a role, but this was a mess.

 Life Itself - I couldn't wait to see this. Then I found out who was directing and all desire was lost. I am in a very small group of people who hated Hoop Dreams. I love the story, but I hated the way it was told. Ebert, whom I respect almost more than any film critic, couldn't get enough of it. The best movie of the 90's he proclaimed. It's not even in the top ten documentaries of the 90's, but that's an argument for another day. Steve James plays to Roger's weakness and that's exploitation. Roger loves exploitation and that's why he hired him. He knew, James would take Roger's wonderful life and depict it in a way that showed Roger as some Lone Ranger type, who bucked tradition and did it his way. The irony is, Roger rarely liked movies that weren't commercial success ready. He did push documentary filmmakers ahead, because he enjoyed the juicy bits of ho hum life, but for the most part he picked big name directors, with big named actors in big budget films and to throw us off his scent, he threw in documentaries and foreign films. Roger was Hollywood, in every sense of the word, he was simply located in Chicago.

 Where the documentary fails is in that it never goes into what made him tick from his childhood. It never really touched on why he settled down, aside from bashing people who drink and it never tells us how he dealt with replacing Siskel with Roeper. Richard Roeper doesn't even appear in the film. The problem with the film is it's two hour and an hour is about his wife, who seems like a loving companion, but frankly, she's not why I or anyone else tuned in. I do appreciate that they didn't shy away from his suffering, although the man took it in stride and I know from his blogs, his attitude was second to none. I know this will sound shallow, but I couldn't help but think, James' real movie about Roger is in the can, waiting for some statutes of copyright limitations to run out. I just can't imagine that a man who meant that much to film and to whom film meant everything, led such a boring life.