Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WSW @ The LAMB: Oscar spotlight

This is the third year in a row that I've contributed a new City Mouse strip to the 'LAMB Devours the Oscars' segment at the LAMB website, and I gotta say, this has become fun in its own way. This time around I've changed a few things; most notably, you'll find that CM's pal Collie has taken center stage, and the truth is, I couldn't stop her! That's how it is sometimes when your characters develop a life of their own, and Collie is nothing if not lively. She insisted on presenting a major category, and I was fortunate to be able to get her Best Actress. If you're expecting to see my renderings of the five nominated women (and girl), however, think again. Thanks go out to David from Never Too Early Movie Predictions for arranging the feature this year.

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Previously:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

City Mouse Makes a Movie #4


Previously: City Mouse is in the process of writing the screenplay to his movie, which his pal Collie is producing.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Starships in the night: 5 times Trek and Wars have crossed paths

I'm still stunned and amazed at the news. Not that I was a big fan of JJ Abrams' interpretation of Star Trek, but I have to admit that I was beginning to think of him as 'ours,' so to speak, for better or for worse. He revitalized the franchise, something it needed for quite awhile, and I give him credit for that. But to think that anyone would want the mighty responsibility of overseeing the two biggest sci-fi franchises OF ALL TIME... Sure, it sounds like the ultimate fanboy fantasy on the surface, but if you think about all the people you'd have to please, all the unrealistic expectations that can never be met, all the headaches...

Well, to coin a phrase, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din.

Not to mention braver.

Still, in observance of this monumentally historic announcement, I'd thought it'd be worth taking a look back at five occasions (among others) in which these two titanic make-believe universes, and their creators and stars, have rubbed shoulders against each other.


- 1976: George Lucas was considered for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As I've written about before, A New Hope (and to a lesser degree, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind) proved that there was a market for big-budget, high adventure science fiction movies that Paramount would take advantage of two years later with the release of the first Trek film. As reported in The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, co-authored by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, in 1976, Jon Povill, who worked on an early Trek screenplay with Roddenberry, was assigned by Paramount to find other writers for a draft. Among those considered was none other than Lucas himself, fresh off of American Graffiti and THX-1138, his debut sci-fi film. (Francis Ford Coppola, Lucas' mentor and friend, was also on the short list.) Later that year, Chris Bryant and Allan Scott put together a treatment called "Planet of the Titans" which studio executives Barry Diller and Michael Eisner liked, and again, Lucas was on Povill's short list as a possible director, but Lucas, of course, was busy making a sci-fi film of his own.

- 1982: Star Trek uses Industrial Light and Magic for the first time, for the movie The Wrath of Khan. The Motion Picture went over budget partially because of the visual effects. For the sequel, The Wrath of Khan, Paramount and director Nicholas Meyer turned to Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic, the VFX house founded by Lucas in 1975 responsible for the groundbreaking visuals seen in the Star Wars movies. The "Genesis" sequence in Khan was the first completely computer-generated sequence. ILM would go on to be used for every subsequent Trek film except Insurrection (ILM was busy with The Phantom Menace at the time), and, regrettably, The Final Frontier, and will be used for the forthcoming Star Trek Into Darkness. ILM has also provided visual effects for the Trek TV shows.


- 1987: Roddenberry and Lucas share a stage for the first time. The occasion was the Star Wars tenth anniversary convention in Los Angeles in May, 1987. Roddenberry was a surprise guest. This post goes into more detail about the event.

- 2012: William Shatner and Carrie Fisher's "feud." Last year, the two iconic stars of their respective franchises exchanged a friendly little back and forth series of videos "arguing" which franchise is better, ending with George Takei's entreaty for "Star Peace":



- 2013: JJ Abrams becomes the first director to tackle both Trek and Wars on the big screen. I've talked before about the rivalry between the fandoms of the Big Two, but for all that, there's been just as many fanfics, fan-made videos, artwork, and other things that imagine Trek and Wars interacting within the same universe. Still, this has the potential to truly unite both sets of fandoms like never before. Now we both have a director we can complain about! Seriously, though, many people, myself included, thought Star Trek '09 looked and felt more like a Star Wars movie, so one wonders whether or not Abrams' experiences making two Trek movies will have any influence on Episode 7

Personally, I've always felt that Wars could use a good dose of the more cerebral nature of Trek. I recently re-read the Timothy Zahn trilogy of Star Wars books, and it seems like the characters take more things for granted in their universe than the Trek characters do in theirs, like artificial intelligence. It would be nice if Abrams and Episode 7 screenwriter Michael Arndt injected a bit more of the sense of wonder at the universe and the variety of life to be found.

Thoughts?

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Related:
Return of the Jedi
Does Lucas have the right to alter Star Wars?
The Disney/Lucas deal from a Trekkie's POV
5 hopes I have for Star Wars Episode VII

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Django Unchained

Django Unchained
seen @ AMC Loews Fresh Meadows 7, Fresh Meadows, Queens, NY
1.24.13

Had a big problem with a cell phone user at my Django Unchained screening. Big as in had-to-get-a-manager big. Here's the deal: I think the Fresh Meadows must have done some kind of remodeling or something from the last time I was there, because this was the first theater I've been to (that I recall) where I could pick which seat I could buy. 

I was stunned; the clerk at the box office showed me a layout of the room and each seat had assigned alphanumeric designations. I suspect this probably matters more at night and weekend showings, where there are bigger crowds, because the room was only half full and it didn't seem like anyone was enforcing the assigned seats thing. 

Plus, the seats themselves were really cushy. When I first sat down in mine, it automatically reclined back and my feet were propped up! Unfortunately, I must have done something wrong, because it went back into its standard position and I didn't know how to get it to recline again. Still, it felt great, however briefly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Life of Pi

Life of Pi
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY
1.19.13

SPOILERS

You know how on awards shows sometimes (especially the Grammys), or after anybody's won something major, you might see somebody thank God for giving them a talent that got them out of their double-wide trailer or their low-income housing project or their duplex and into the major leagues or a Hollywood movie, or a reality-TV show, which led to not only fame and fortune, but a chemical dependency and/or hours of community service and/or a police record as long as your arm?

I have no doubt that sometimes it is meant as a sincere expression of one's faith, but the frequency with which it tends to happen makes me question its sincerity sometimes. The notion that God cares so much about this one person over and above the other competitors that He/She/It/They is supposed to love equally never seemed to jibe with me. Winning a competition of any kind is a result of hard work, perseverance and dedication on the individual's part,,, but we're supposed to believe that God simply favored one over others in the end.



In the past two years, we've passed both the so-called "rapture" deadline and the Mayan apocalypse deadline and no supreme being of any denomination has come to liberate the "faithful" and usher in any kind of golden age of humanity, whether here on earth or in "heaven." As far as I can tell, this still has not stopped people from believing something of that nature will happen. People have believed this, in one form or another, for centuries. Isn't it time we put these pipe dreams away and start making this life livable while we can, instead of waiting for deliverance from above?

The story of the character Pi Patel in Life of Pi is supposed to make us believe in God, according to Pi himself. What I found was that it made me believe in man. I read the book before seeing the movie, so I knew going in what the twist in this story was. Still, seeing this story dramatized made me see it a little differently.




So much lip service is made to how Pi's faith helped get him through his ordeal, and how even in his darkest moments on that boat with that tiger, he was able to see the wonder of God and all that, but in both versions of his story, he himself did what he had to do to survive. He didn't sit around waiting for a miracle, he used his brain, his wits, to stay alive long enough to take advantage of opportunity when it arose. Some may call it divine intervention, but I call it opportunity. He was on that boat a long time.

So why are there two versions of the story? Here's my theory: Pi went through a highly traumatic experience and afterward, he needed to make sense of it somehow. He undoubtedly suffered some degree of survivor's guilt. The mind's a funny thing; it accepts what it chooses to accept, especially in the face of great trauma, so he framed his story in a context that cast him as a heroic figure whose faith in the divine was rewarded, instead of someone who had to kill another human being. 



That's a perfectly human inclination and I don't blame him for that. Still, I think that perhaps the strength of character and of will to survive however many days he was marooned in the middle of the Pacific is obscured in the urge to praise God, just as an award winner who thanks God doesn't give him- or herself enough credit for having the skills necessary to win that award in the first place. Remember, Pi is a story that's supposed to make us believe in God. Then again, perhaps Pi simply wasn't able to give himself credit. Like I said, survivor's guilt was probably eating him away in those first few months.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that in the face of a lack of concrete evidence as to God's existence, maybe we should stop attributing Him/Her/It/Them for achievements that we ourselves have made. This didn't keep me from appreciating Pi as a movie, however. I thought it was spectacular. The tiger genuinely scared the living crap out of me more than once. I couldn't believe it was a computer-generated creation.



It took me this long to see Pi because I was holding out for a non-3D showing. There definitely were some non-3D showings, but for one reason or another I was unable to get to them, until finally I decided I may as well dish out the extra bucks for it. Fortunately, it was at the Kew Gardens, which even in 3D is still cheaper than the city, or for that matter, most multiplexes anywhere in the five boroughs. Have I mentioned lately how much I love, love, LOVE the Kew Gardens?

The 3D was definitely worth it. As more A-list filmmakers like Ang Lee experiment with the format, I suspect it's gonna be harder and harder to resist. The 3D here was a bit show-off-y in places, especially the opening credits, but that's okay because it was so beautiful, maybe the best I've seen since Avatar.



Portions of this post were taken from my end of an online chat I had with Andi after seeing the movie. She mostly asked questions about my opinions and as a result I was able to frame my thoughts into a coherent order. (For her part, she thought the movie was just okay.) I'm willing to admit that I could be off about my interpretations of the story. In five years time, I might have a different perspective. In re-reading this, my reaction still feels impulsive and maybe a little reactionary to me, even though I waited several days before writing about it. Still, some movies just make you feel a certain way.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid (1984)
seen on TV @ AMC
1.16.13

In re-watching the original Karate Kid the other night, I found myself thinking about it in a new context - namely, within today's rise of bullying to near-epidemic proportions. After all, Daniel only takes up karate because he is bullied, and to a pretty harsh degree. I've talked about this before, but when I was a kid, my father told me that I should stand up to bullies, and while one would hope that one wouldn't need to learn karate to do so, intellectually, I still agree with him. But then again, it's been a looooooong time since grade school for me, and things have changed.

I pass by those Tiger Schulmann's martial arts schools all the time and I usually see little kids, some as young as six or seven, perhaps, in their white robes and headgear, rolling around on the floor or whatever, and I wonder whether these classes are for them or for their parents. When I see the parents lined up against the wall, watching little Ashlynn or Braden (don't get me started on modern baby names) throwing punches and kicks around like they're Bruce Lee or something, it makes me whether or not there's a kind of status symbol thing in having your kid learn martial arts. 


What percentage of these kids will continue with their training into adulthood? Ten percent? Seven? See, to me, karate classes for your little kid isn't quite the same as klezmer lessons or playing on the lacrosse team or what have you. If you want your kid to learn martial arts, particularly from a young age, it seems to me the reasons are gonna be slightly different - and I can easily imagine one reason being that you want them to be able to defend themselves against bullies... but fighting back is often discouraged.


In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi stresses to Daniel that violence should only be used as a last resort. The environment of a karate tournament means Daniel can face his bullies in a controlled situation where each side is equalized. (Let's not bring up the sequels.) This isn't always possible, of course, especially these days, when cyber-bullying means one can torment another from afar anonymously and never face repercussions. And beyond that, I suspect standing up to bullies, whether physically or verbally, is simply harder today than when I was growing up.


Would I tell my theoretical child to physically stand up to bullies? I believe so, but maybe I'm old-school. Maybe I don't fully understand how different bullying has become. One more reason why I do not want kids, ever.


Anyway, you don't need me to tell you how awesome this movie is. In looking at Ralph Macchio again, I really appreciated how charismatic and charming he was at such a young age. He never became as big a star as, say, Matt Dillon or Ethan Hawke, which is unfortunate. It was nice to see him on the big screen again in Hitchcock, even if only in one scene. And Pat Morita is godlike in this film.

AMC has been doing this thing lately where during the movie, they have this pop-up factoids that are displayed intermittently, kinda like having a running director's commentary on a DVD. It's kinda interesting at first, but after awhile it gets really distracting. They could just as easily post these tidbits online at their site, or better yet, leading into and out of commercial breaks. At least with director's or actor's commentary on DVDs, you can turn it off if you want to.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

AFFRM needs films in other genres

The past year has been a monumental one for Ava DuVernay and her black film distribution business AFFRM. After winning Best Director at last year's Sundance Film Festival, Middle of Nowhere stayed within the critical sphere of consciousness all year long, garnering outstanding reviews and coming within shouting distance of an Oscar nomination. Even though the film missed, one has to believe that its success will make it easier for the next independent black film to make it, though it must be said that Nowhere doesn't need Oscar validation to be a good movie.

Earlier this week, I linked to an announcement that AFFRM would expand its reach, starting up a new label for the express purpose of releasing black indy films on a multi-platform level, which  presumes a wider media exposure, and that is exciting. In its brief existence, AFFRM has championed high-quality films by filmmakers of color and gotten them into mass-market theaters in big cities around the country, and is playing a big part in re-defining black cinema in America.

Looking at the films they've backed, however - DuVernay's Nowhere and I Will Follow, plus Kinyarwanda, Restless City, and now Better Mus' Come - one notices a trend that I find a bit problematic: they're all deadly-serious dramas. Good ones, but all dramas just the same. (I haven't seen Better, but its description sounds like it's in much the same vein. I won't know for sure until I see it.)

I suspect, and I admit I may be off on this, that part of the reason why may be a result of DuVernay's personal sensibilities on what she looks for in a film. I love the fact that she doesn't settle for the easy, safe, commercial choice; that she seeks out films that reflect the worldview and vision of their creators. That's important.

By the same token, though, I hope that somewhere down the line AFFRM backs films that reflect as much diversity of genre as one would find at, say, Sundance, or Toronto or Telluride or Cannes: romance, or suspense, or (smart) comedy, or even science-fiction. An animated film would be nice. I believe that this is a goal AFFRM shares and it's my hope that they're working towards it.

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Related:

Monday, January 14, 2013

New year's links

The first link list of 2013 and I don't have too much to say other than I'm working on my contribution to this year's LAMB Devours the Oscars. As I mentioned on Saturday, it's another City Mouse strip, this time featuring Collie (she kinda kicked CM to the curb this year). It should be done this week and will hopefully go up very soon. In the meantime, please don't be shy about letting me know what you think of City Mouse Makes a Movie; if you like it, hate it, whatever, tell me about it.

Similar to the Cinematic World Tour I went on last year, Ruth explores the scenery of Bruges as seen in the film In Bruges.

Jess takes a look at British royalty in the movies.

Andrew re-examines Beasts of the Southern Wild from a sociological perspective.

Retrospace spotlights British actress Diana Rigg of Avengers fame (no, not those Avengers)... wearing mini-skirts.

AFFRM expands to a new label and acquires a new film for it to distribute, the Caribbean film Better Mus' Come.

Has it really been 40 years since the birth of School House Rock?

Finally, if you just can't get enough of my artwork, my cartoonist pal Suzanne Baumann has posted on her blog a sketch that I did for her awhile back. She collects sketches from her friends all the time, and this one in particular is part of a themed series. Plus she does some cool cartoons of her own, so go take a look.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar 2012: The nominees

Best Picture

Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

The rest of the nominees.

Kathryn Bigelow snubbed for Best Director? Are you kidding me? How is it possible that ZDT gets in for Picture, Actress and Original Screenplay but not Director? I know some people are likely gonna cry conspiracy, saying Bigelow's getting punished for making a controversial movie and pissing off the wrong people - no, more to the point, being a WOMAN and making such a movie. At this moment I almost feel inclined to agree, because this makes no goddamn sense. Props to Benh Zeitlin for making the cut; Beasts was a terrific movie, but what Bigelow achieved with ZDT was on a completely different level, made in the face of political bickering, national security issues, and yes, gender bias within Hollywood. For her to not be recognized for what she accomplished is an absolute disgrace, and the Academy should hang their heads in shame over it.


On another level, no Ben Affleck for Directing either? Especially after he scooped up a Director's Guild nomination? Argo gets Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor, but  AMPAS couldn't throw a bone to a director who has only gotten better and better over the course of his career, made a movie that appealed to everyone and made beaucoup bucks, and is following in the grand tradition of good actors turned great directors that includes Eastwood, Redford and Clooney, among others? I had a feeling Michael Haneke might still get in for Director, but certainly not at Affleck's expense. This is more disappointing than disgraceful, and makes me worry about Argo's Best Picture chances (though I still say it's Lincoln's to lose).

I wasn't sure if Amour had what it took to go all the way, but there are certainly enough precedents for a foreign language Best Pic candidate. Still, it'll probably have to settle for the Foreign Language Oscar, though how amazing would it be if Emmanuelle Riva were to take Actress?

On the other hand, Skyfall fell just short of a Best Pic nom. There was talk about the James Bond film possibly making it in, but once again, the Academy's genre bias rears its ugly head. It's what kept The Dark Knight out (and, for that matter, The Dark Knight Rises), it's what kept Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 out, and it makes one wonder why they bothered to expand the Best Pic field to ten nominees, and now five-to-ten, in the first place.

Props to the following for making it in: Hugh Jackman for Actor (he's come a long way since The Clawed One), Quvenzhan√© Wallis for Actress (I think I've figured out how to pronounce her name now; it's kwah-VEN-shah-NAY), Searching for Sugar Man for Documentary Feature (thank you, John, for telling me about this movie!), and Flight and Moonrise Kingdom for Original Screenplay.

As usual, a lotta good, a lotta bad.

Your thoughts?

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Previously:
Oscar 2011: The nominees
Oscar 2010: The nominees

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dosunmu's 'Mother' debuting @ Sundance


Remember the guy who directed Restless City? He's got a new one. Here's a Sundance video interview in which he talks about it. City was a Top 10 pick of mine for 2011, so I have high hopes for this new film as well. Seek out City if you can; it's an astonishing film.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gaslight

Gaslight
seen on TV @ TCM
1.7.13

To be honest, for a long time, I had always thought of Ingrid Bergman as the Casablanca chick and little else. I didn't realize until recently, for instance, that she won three acting Oscars (though one was supporting, I believe, so that's why she's never mentioned in the same breath as Meryl Streep). I liked her in Casablanca, no doubt, but I had never been inspired to seek out the rest of her films, though I have seen Spellbound and Notorious, of course.

She was from Sweden, so I imagine she probably got plenty of comparisons to Greta Garbo. They were both impossibly beautiful. I used to have a bit of a movie crush on Garbo ever since seeing her in Camille in my college film history class. I've read and heard people describe Garbo as cold and distant, and maybe that was true to an extent. I remember seeing some of her silent films on PBS once. I think maybe that was her true forte - not that she didn't do well in talkies.


Bergman, however, doesn't strike me as being much different in this aspect, however. She had a little more fire to her, true, but I can't imagine her making a movie like Ninotchka, one that tweaks her on-screen persona and allows her to let her hair down - and I fully admit, I have not seen nearly enough of her movies. 

I've wondered here before whether actors of the past were more locked into their cinematic images than those of today, and I'm beginning to think that this was indeed the case. In reading about Bergman's history, I've noticed that when she married director Roberto Rossellini and left her first husband, she was pregnant with Rossellini's child, and this caused such a scandal that she was banned from American films for seven years. Apparently, everybody was used to her screen image as a good girl. This strikes me as absolutely ridiculous, given the amount of affairs that have been long part of Hollywood's history. Maybe it was the pregnancy that put this over the top for people back then?


So I finally got to see Bergman in Gaslight for the first time yesterday. A former video store co-worker recommended this film once, and it was one of those little things that stuck in my memory for years, but I never bothered to do anything about until now. This was the first of her three Oscar-winning roles - another thing I didn't know at the time I watched it. 

Bergman marries this dude years after the unsolved murder of her aunt and moves back into the house she grew up in with her, which unsettles Bergman a bit, but she does it for her man, who likes the place. Then he begins messing with her head, making her think she's more forgetful and incompetent than she actually is. Then she hears noises in the attic, where there shouldn't be any, and she starts freaking out. Her husband's running some kinda game on her, but what is it?


Looking at the Oscars for 1945, I see Bergman beat Stany. You can take one guess as to who I would've voted for, but in fairness to Bergman, she wasn't even nominated for Casablanca, which makes NO SENSE AT ALL, so if this was a make-up Oscar, I can live with it. 

Bergman is very good in Gaslight, although her character seemed to me like the victim of Plot-Induced Stupidity. Why did she feel like she couldn't go out of her own house? Just because her creepy husband said so? And why couldn't she unboard the door to the attic and see what was up there? I kept expecting her to say the house was haunted by her aunt's ghost, but she never does. She just seemed too easily cowed, not just by her husband, but by the noises in the attic and the titular gaslight flickering back and forth. I know, I know; this is set in the Victorian era, and people, especially women, were way different then. 


A brief word about Angela Lansbury: I thought that the husband was gonna have some kind of dalliance with her character, especially when it seemed as if she was gonna be the one to initiate it! I liked her and I wish she could've played a bigger role in the story, even if she did still get an Oscar nomination her own self. She's quite lovely here and even a little on the curvy side. It's easy to see why she has had such a long career in film and television.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Amour

Amour
seen @ Film Forum, New York, NY
1.4.13

I've talked before about the last years of my father's life and of how fortunate it was that his mind didn't deteriorate at the same rate as his body. As I recall, it wasn't until the final weeks or so that his mind began to slip a little bit. The rest of the time, I could talk to him as easily as I can talk to you.

Still, it wasn't always easy living with the knowledge that he would never walk again. He always loomed large in my memory - partly because he was well over six feet tall and played football in college - but also for his intellect. I didn't always agree with him on everything; in fact, in certain matters I thought he could be shockingly obtuse and close-minded - but he did love a good debate. He had "street smarts" as well as book smarts; he could talk to corporate businessmen and single mothers from the ghetto alike, without condescending to either.


When I think of my father in relation to my mother, especially within the context of the last years of his life, I've always found it somewhat... problematic to think of them as a "happy couple," and not just because of his condition. I have no doubt that they cared for each other. They had their arguments, of course, but I don't ever recall them having serious fights. By the same token, though, throughout my life, I saw little in the way of displays of affection between them. They weren't cold around each other; they'd laugh, share stories, that kind of stuff, but I never saw them kiss or even hold hands affectionately.

Is it a symptom of age? I've always suspected so, but I'm not sure. There's one couple I know who are both in their 60s. They've been together for well over a decade, and I've seen them together on a number of occasions. Same thing: they're warm with each other, but it seems more like a good friendship and not a romantic one.

When my mother had to take care of my father's physical needs, she did so, tirelessly and with little complaint, but if I were to be honest, it always felt to me more like she did it more out of a sense of duty, obligation, as opposed to love - which i not a bad thing, in and of itself, of course. I know she wouldn't have gone to such lengths for anyone else, and she did her job damn well.


There's this notion that I see in lots of movies and other storytelling forms that with time comes an ossification in a marriage, that the more familiar one becomes with a spouse, the more the life supposedly gets drained out - and yes, you and I both can think of exceptions. It's an idea I've discussed before: we long for that perfect someone to share our lives with, but when we do, we eventually get bored with them, or at the very least, the spark of life in the relationship is dimmed.

I dunno. Maybe it does have to do with age. I don't wanna become physically disabled to the point where others have to take care of me. My father was able to get some enjoyment in his twilight years, but it was mostly the passive kind: watching TV, having friends come to him, etc. He rarely took the initiative and chose to get out of his bed, into his wheelchair and out into the world. I think after a certain point, he was resigned to his fate and accepted it, the same way some couples resign themselves to a long-term relationship. Love may not die, but I think it can wither, like a plant, over time if it's not fed...


...which brings me to the movie about the waning years of a relationship, defined by love itself. I was pretty eager to see Amour because of the mountain of hype behind it. I knew it would make me think of my parents, and I figured watching it may prove difficult. Well, I was right on that score...

... though not for the reason I expected. This movie is long as hell! Why did it mean to be so damn long, especially when there were so many scenes of people either sitting around watching or waiting or staring into space? I swear to god, one of the first scenes is something like five minutes of a static shot of a concert hall audience listening to a performance - in other words, one audience staring at another!

Also, something about the direction made me feel slightly detached from the story. It had nothing to do with the acting, which was marvelous; I just wasn't able to keep the analytical (and snarky) side of my brain from shutting up and accepting it as a story, a reflection of life. Director Michael Haneke goes to extraordinary lengths to achieve a sense of realism. We see Jean-Louis Trintignant tending to Emmanuelle Riva's physical state - and I recognized so many of these acts from seeing my mother do them for my father - but we also see things like JLT chasing pigeons around their apartment, including after Riva dies (NOT a spoiler; we see her corpse in the very first scene) that took me out of the film altogether. 


Still, I don't wanna sound like I'm putting the movie down. It's quite good, and it made me even more aware of the profound differences in the way movies are made in America and in Europe. It's no wonder that Hollywood chases the youth market as fervently as they do. In the main, we don't wanna see old people dying in movies. We don't want such vivid reminders of our mortality, unless it's leavened with comedy (like in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) or glamor or even action. Amour doesn't even have a score!

Of course, you couldn't tell that to the Forum crowd I saw it with. I got there about forty minutes early because I knew the ticket holders line would be long and I wanted to be inside in the lobby, not outside on the sidewalk in the cold! When the previous show let out, there was a throng of people exiting the auditorium that didn't seem to end. Periodically, I looked up from my book and kept seeing people passing by. I didn't think there was that much room in all of the Forum!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

City Mouse Makes a Movie #1


All you need to know about City Mouse prior to reading this is that he's a character I created back in 2008 when I was living in Columbus, Ohio (which would make 2013 his fifth anniversary!). The original strips can be seen here, though one of these days I'm gonna have to update that blog. When I moved back to New York, so did he, though that's about to change very soon...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SLJ dares interviewer to say 'nigger'




[UPDATE 1.4.13: Re-posting this from the comments section because my exact position on this needs to be clarified.]

It's always been my belief that words only have as much power as we give them, and that includes potentially offensive words like 'nigger.' Race has been a huge problem in America for centuries, and the only way we can begin to solve this problem is if we're able to talk about it openly, and without fear - not by hiding behind euphemisms like 'the n-word.' For better or for worse, the word 'nigger' exists, and tiptoeing around it for fear of offense does no one any good in the long run.


SLJ understands this, which is why he wouldn't let the interviewer get away with a discussion on race without using the word 'nigger,' especially when the interviewer was the one who brought it up himself. And SLJ was absolutely correct in saying that if he said it first, it would not be the same thing. 



The interviewer, a white guy, clearly wants to have an intelligent discussion on race, but by sticking to the euphemism, meaning is either lost or misconstrued, as SLJ proved when he responded, "No? Nobody? Nothing?" After all, lots of words begin with N. Therefore, I strongly doubt that the interviewer would've been crucified over saying 'nigger' IN THIS CONTEXT.

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY
12.27.12

It's been a long time since I was a regular, passionate sports fan, so I don't recall what, if any, superstitions I may have had while watching a Mets game. I doubt I had many; I was a teenager and probably too young to even be aware of the concept within the context of sports. My father certainly never had any that I knew of. He was a very practical man and wouldn't have believed in that stuff.

The idea is certainly a strange one - that one's actions can have an indirect yet positive effect on one's favorite team. We know athletes believe in it. For example, when a pitcher has a no-hitter going, his teammates will almost always refuse to talk about it, for fear that bringing it up will make the pitcher self-conscious and break his concentration somehow. Perhaps fans picked up on such behavior and applied it to their own experience of watching a game.


There's no scientific basis for it, but fans and athletes alike continue to do it. I'm no psychologist, but if I were to take a guess as to why, I'd say it provides an illusion of control. For the athlete, it's different. The other eight ballplayers behind the pitcher can control, to a certain extent, how long that no-hitter lasts by making the defensive plays they're supposed to and scoring runs. The pitcher may still end up throwing the wrong pitch to a certain batter and give up a base hit, but at least his teammates know they did their part.

Not so with the fans. All they can do is root for their team, whether at the ballpark or in front of the TV, so they may feel like they can impart some positive energy, good vibes, or "juju," whatever you wanna call it, to their team. It's irrational, but it's a comfort, and if it appears to work, they'd be loath to give it up unless they were absolutely convinced it didn't work, which may take awhile.


I just finished re-reading Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, an account of his lifelong love affair with soccer. The lengths he goes to in order to support his team, Arsenal, defy rational behavior to, frankly, a disturbing degree - the things he can and can't do in order to watch a game, who he can watch a game with and how, the degree of possessiveness he feels towards his team - and yet he's able to clinically analyze his obsession, look at himself, and admit that yes, his self-imposed superstitions make no sense.

But he still believes in them.

I'm sure this sort of thing is not limited to just sports. It's a type of behavior that betrays our most primal roots, back in the days when we knew nothing about the way the world worked and invented rituals to explain, and perhaps control, our fear of the unknown. It's peculiar that even in this so-called "enlightened" age of science and reason, we still can't shake such habits...


...habits practiced by Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro's characters in Silver Linings Playbook (the lack of a "the" in that title still irks me). In their case, we're led to believe that their superstitions, in aid of their favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, are an aspect of their generally anti-social behavior, especially in Cooper's case, since his character, Pat, just got out of a mental institution. Still, I didn't necessarily feel that the movie was making the case that all sports fans, or at least all Eagles fans, were mental.

I was dubious about Playbook prior to seeing it. I had read all about the positive buzz around it, of course; how it was a great crowd-pleaser everywhere it played on the festival circuit. Still, the trailer left me somewhat unmoved: two mentally unhinged people bond through dancing? I was expecting a subpar cross between As Good As It Gets and Dirty Dancing.


I liked it, though. Director David O. Russell proves once again, as he did with The Fighter and other films in his repertoire, that he has a knack for getting outstanding performances out of his actors, especially Cooper and DeNiro and Jennifer Lawrence, who continues to astonish me. I don't think she's had a bad performance yet in her career - and she's so young!