Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Deep Thoughts #21

I know it’s pretty unlikely, but I have this morbid desire for the Jets to make the playoffs, get to the AFC title game, and beat the Colts.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Up in the Air

There’s quite a lot to recommend this picture, and only a handful of things that work against it - none of which, alone or in concert, is enough to bring the picture down. It ain’t perfect, but it’s awfully good. Some reviewers are calling it George Clooney’s best movie; and while I don’t know about that, I might just go so far as to call it his most accomplished piece of work as an actor. Maybe. It’s probably not too much of a stretch for George Clooney to play a single guy who flies all over the place and isn’t much interested in commitment; but there’s more to it than that, even though most of the “more to it than that” comes in the third - and weakest - act of the film.

The first two acts are exceptional, introducing us to Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a hatchet man who works for a company that fires people for profit. He spends most of the year on the road and is trying to achieve the dubious distinction of becoming only the seventh person in history to have traveled ten million miles on American Airlines. He fires people for a living, but he genuinely tries to do a humane job of breaking the news to the newly unemployed; and he bristles when his boss takes on a young woman named Natalie (Anna Kendrick), whose bright idea is to save money for the company by introducing a new system for firing people - using video chat and the magic Internets.

If the system works, it will put an end to what Bingham has come to enjoy as his solitary way of life. When he tells us that he spent 322 days on the road last year, he finishes the sentence by saying that, unfortunately, that meant he had to spend 43 “miserable days at home," although home, a one-bedroom stark white apartment, is almost indistinguishable from the many hotels in which he stays while he's one the road - except that the apartment is not as fancy as the hotel rooms. Natalie pitches the system as a way for people like Bingham to be able to be home more often. For most people, being at home is a good thing, something they look forward to at the end of a hard day’s work. Ryan Bingham, however, actually enjoys the things that most people do only because they have to - packing for his trip, going through the motions at the airport, checking into the hotel. He speaks easily about these things. To him, they are not motions to be gone through, but part of the fun of getting to that goal of ten million miles and all the perks that go along with that. He already uses the Gold Member Express lines and lanes everywhere he goes, so when he gets his ten million he’ll also get…to meet the airline’s chief pilot. Wow.

Ryan Bingham is no bullshit artist. He genuinely believes that he prefers to be alone, that his life is full by way of his constant forward motion to achieve something - in this case, his ten million miles. At one point, he explains to Natalie that more people have walked on the moon than have flown ten million miles with American; and it’s as though he is completely oblivious to the fact that he is conflating the remarkable achievement of highly educated and skilled astronauts with that of a yo-yo whose greatest skill appears to be profiling the crowd at the airport so that he wastes as little time as possible getting through security and onto the plane. It’s no coincidence that this is a dude who never wears a pair of shoes with laces.

He also believes that, by talking one-on-one to the people he fires, he can let them down gently and convince them that he is granting them an opportunity rather than a defeat. Clooney’s deft delivery and deliberate slowness in these scenes - contrasted with his striking economy of motion in practically every other scene - makes us believe this about him, too. The best scene in the film comes not quite halfway through, when Bingham fires a character named Bob, played by J.K. Simmons. Bingham notes that Bob’s resumé indicates that he is a trained chef - and then he asks Bob how much the company that is now firing him first offered him in order to make him give up his dream of cooking. It’s almost heartbreaking to watch Simmons’ face as Bob remembers the dreams he had at an earlier point in his life.

As we get older, most of us settle into a routine and watch the years go by almost without noticing what’s happening. We do what we do because…it’s what we do, not necessarily because it’s what we always wanted to do. We’re pressured by society into work, marriage, and family because it’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s what everyone else does. When a person like Ryan Bingham manages to find another way to live, one that gives him success and happiness without the burden of the responsibilities most of us have to bear as part of the bargain of walking upright with opposable thumbs and speech, society - shown here in microcosm when Natalie questions him repeatedly about why he doesn’t want to marry or have kids, and when the people he fires ask him how he sleeps at night - pushes back against that person’s choice; and that person, rather than finding some way to connect with society in a mutually agreeable way, allows him- or herself to remain at a distance, conjuring personal happiness out of thin air - or rather, out of a manufactured desire to be more unique than people who have walked on the moon.

It is only when he meets a kindred spirit, in the form of fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), that he feels the faintest inkling of a connection to another human being. They start out by comparing the cards they use when they fly and rent cars, and then they move onto drinks in the airport lounge, and then - surprise! - they end up in bed together. In an almost-too-cutesy scene they sit down across from each other at the table in the hotel room and get on their laptops to compare schedules so they can arrange their next booty call. What follows is an intricate dance of technicalities that reveals a depth to Bingham’s character that he has never imagined could be true, and which he is reluctant to accept.

In a classic romantic dramedy, Bingham’s character would find a way to accept the fact that he is more like the rest of us than he originally thought, or than he ever wanted to be; but this is a revisionist story, adapted from a novel, that ties up a few loose ends in classical fashion - but which is brave enough to remain largely in the realm of revisionism. I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t tell you if this is to the credit of novelist Walter Kirn or director Jason Reitman. What I can tell you is that there was the chance for a perfect ending, a point where they could have faded to black having barely crossed over into classicism; unfortunately, the film goes on about fifteen minutes too long after that. Those fifteen minutes are not entirely unsatisfying - there’s a cameo by Sam Elliott, and who doesn’t love Sam Elliott? - and the very end loops back around to the revisionism that underpins most of the film; but I think that they may have missed truly profound greatness by just those fifteen minutes. Having said that, though, it must also be said that the film is very, very good. Clooney is excellent - probably as good as he’s ever been - and Vera Farmiga is absolutely wickedly understated. It’s easily one of the best films of the year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Ten Films of the 2000s

So I wandered over to Shane’s blog last night, and I saw his Top Ten Films of the 2000s; and I thought to myself, here’s a good idea. I’ve been wanting to go back a few years to see how many movies I’ve seen anyway - because Ryan told me about a link to a list of every film released commercially in New York, broken down by year - and this seemed like the perfect seque into making that list and, of course, analyzing it.

I’ll be spending some time on this over the next couple of weeks - and I’m curious as to what other people’s lists might look like. The link that Ryan told me about is here - scroll down to the section called The Pleasure Garden, and you’ll see a link for 2009 NYC Commercial Releases (and years past linked in brackets to the right, all the way back to 1998). Clicking on each link gives you the major New York releases in order of release date. I’m afraid that my list is going to be heavy on mainstream junk, at least for the first half or so; and there was a long stretch in there where working for Another Major Competitor had pretty much destroyed any interest I had ever had in movies. However, shifting gears and going to work for a retirement home theatre - that occasionally plays an art movie or two - has mostly reversed that.

So anyway, that’s it. Anybody already got a list? Seems like people don’t blog much anymore, but it’d be cool to get this going like we got that list of questions from Troy going a few months ago.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Antichrist

(Note: Yes, this took way too long for me to write and post - I started it a week ago and just now got around to finishing it. The movie has come and gone, although we were lucky to have played it for the one week. Unfortunately, one can’t live by art film alone - which is why we have to play smarmy chicken-fried nonsense like The Blind Side and geriatric porn like It’s Complicated. Sigh. What are you going to do? Antichrist will be out on DVD on January 11, 2010, for those who are still interested.)

I don’t know that this is really the kind of movie that you can “like.” That’s mostly how I answered the question, of whether or not I liked this movie, while I was at work on Friday. Thursday night, after the lights came up, one of the other people who watched it turned around in her seat and asked me if I understood it; and I said, “A little, I think.” Twenty-four hours on, I don’t know that any of it is clearer to me, objectively; but I have a better idea of what I thought about it, and I think that’s where this movie really succeeds - as a thought-provoking, challenging piece of art, though one that most people probably won’t be able to stomach.

The basic framework of the story has to do with a man and woman, whose only identities are given as He and She - which a lot of people are taking to be a pretentious affectation on the part of writer-director Lars von Trier, a Danish filmmaker who seems to be best known for trying to shock his audience. I disagree that the appellations are either pretentious or an affectation, but I can’t speak to the rest of the von Trier oeuvre - this is the first of his pictures that I have seen. (Some of the others include Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Dogville.) He and She retreat to their cabin in the woods - strategically named Eden - after the tragic death of their young son, so that She can cope with her grief, pain, and despair.

And that’s pretty much it - for the basic part, anyway. The rest of it is complicated…shocking…perverse…disgusting…sometimes random…and, some would say, entirely without a point. It’s also thought-provoking - maybe more so than any other movie I’ve seen this year - if you can get all the way through it without wanting to block it out of your memory for the rest of your life. I will say, however, that it wasn’t quite as thoroughly icky as I thought it was going to be, based on much of what I read about the film after it premiered in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May.

We should probably begin with the name of the cabin in the woods - Eden (where a lot of fiction has its…ahem…genesis). Only this time, after Something Really Bad (and unlikely) happens Man and Woman go back to Eden. A stretch? Not really. The movie is called Antichrist, after all - though if you’re thinking young girls vomiting pea soup or unholy babies living in the posh digs of the Dakota Hotel, you’re on the wrong track. Roger Ebert puts it nicely in his review by noting that the word antichrist is often thought to mean the opposite of Christ, whereas its translation from Greek is “opposed to Christ.” Mr. Ebert goes on to make the distinction that the “opposite of Christ” is supernatural and the “opposed to Christ” is the mere mortal - but I saw it a little bit differently than that, which is possibly due to the fact that I don’t think the concept of a “Christ” is any more valid than arguments against gay marriage or Sandra Bullock being nominated for any number of Golden Globes other than zero.

I read “opposite of Christ” as the physical manifestation of whatever stands against this Christ person; but this idea is fraught with problems - not the least of which is that Christ is a myth, which means that the antichrist, defined as the opposite of Christ, must also be a myth. Defined that way, “antichrist” isn’t anything at all, because the thing that it’s anti- isn’t anything at all, either. That leaves “opposed to Christ,” which is much more interesting - and actually possible in a world where science and reason count for something! Since “Christ” is only an idea, then “antichrist” here becomes opposition to that idea - or rather, those ideas, in plural, since “Christ” is really just the synthesis (depicted incorrectly as caucasian in literary works and art by arrogant, and stupid, Western whites) of a number of better-than-the-Old-Testament ideas like peace and love and forgiveness. This last idea, that of forgiveness, is most interesting within the framework of this film.

The film opens with He and She having exquisitely photographed black and white sex in the bathroom while their toddler manages to get out of his crib (quite gracefully, by the way), climb onto a window ledge, open the window, and topple to his death. They go back to Eden so that She can deal with her grief, despite the fact that He - a therapist who decides to treat his own wife, never mind the taboo - is oddly cold and reptilian for someone who is supposed to be caring for and treating her. Not much of what takes place at Eden is probably in the psychology textbooks, and none of it seems to do much to address forgiveness, either - though forgiving herself is what She seems to have the most trouble with. Eventually, we come to find out that She has been coming to Eden now and again to do research for her thesis - a rambling, scrapbook-like construct that would have looked right at home to the John Doe character in Seven, and which is steeped in the history of how women have been mistreated at the hands of men. The montage shown when He discovers her work not so subtly reveals that the research seems to be having a deleterious effect on her mental health.

Whether they actually deal with their grief is open to debate, but in the end, what we have is a fairly interesting meditation on evil and human nature - one that leaves you with quite a lot to think about it, but no clear answers. I don’t get a good sense of whether von Trier’s purpose here is to foster discussion or just disgust the viewer (this is where having seen some of his previous films would have been helpful), in part because he does a reasonably good job of doing both; but I tend to lean more toward the idea that he wanted to foster discussion. I don’t know that it’s an especially good film, but I would recommend it even if it were only challenging - which it is; that it is also quite thought-provoking merits at least a mildly enthusiastic recommendation. But it is most certainly not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

For most of the way through the latest Wes Anderson picture, I was having thoughts similar to the ones had while watching the latest Coen Brothers picture (A Serious Man) - which thoughts were that I was watching a really good movie, but that I didn’t really like it all that much. I liked the Anderson more than the Coens, though - but it did not knock me down, and I also don’t know that it’s a Top Ten movie as we get toward the end of the year. I don’t have any real complaints with the film, nothing I saw or heard that I thought was done poorly; but the movie, as a whole, lacked something that would have made me connect with it in a more emotional way. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what that was that it was lacking - but it’s possible that I might figure it out while I’m writing about it, so let’s see what I have to say at the end of this little thing, eh?

And even though I’m not sure about how much I liked it, I do know for sure that it’s really, really good. Wes Anderson - who, along with Noah Baumbach, adapted the book by Roald Dahl - is pretty much a genius when it comes to dialogue, or at least when it comes to getting his actors (or in this case, his voice talent) to mutter dialogue in an offhand sort of way. This usually translates into an intelligent, stifled malaise that makes his characters sympathetic in a cold, clammy way; but it works differently with stop-motion foxes and badgers (and a few people, too), who glitter with an odd vitality and lust for life. They wear jackets and ties, and buy real estate and communicate with cell phones - but they also wolf down food that they eat with their paws; they are both anthropomorphic and feral at the same time, and this emerges as the central conflict in the story.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a chicken thief by trade, but Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) wants him to find a new line of work after they get caught in a trap and she tells him that she’s pregnant. He agrees to do this, and then becomes a columnist for the local newspaper; but he is a wild animal by nature, and eventually his nature gets the best of him, so he goes back to stealing chickens - though he hides it from his wife, which is the human side of him trying to do an end run around his feral nature. Along the way, he decides that he no longer wants to live in a hole like foxes do, so he buys a nice tree and has a house built in it - despite being told that he is moving to a bad part of town, near the farms of three humans who are excoriated in song as meanie-heads.

Of course, Fox eventually runs afoul of the farmers, who naturally band together to snuff him out - and his family and all of his friends, while they’re at it; and, equally naturally, his family and friends join forces to try to defeat the farmers so that they can maintain a relatively peaceful existence under the radar (and under the ground). Eventually I’m going to have to start taking notes when I watch certain movies, because sometimes there is just too much going on to try to remember all of the little details that are worth mentioning - and this is especially true of Wes Anderson pictures; but for those of you who are familiar with Wes Anderson pictures, you certainly won’t be disappointed when it comes to all of the little things going on in the background.

All of the technical aspects of the film are first rate, as one would expect - with the cinematography, particularly with respect to framing, being especially good. The stop-motion animation is as good as it gets, with lines so crisp and textures so rich that I got the feeling the movie was filmed in HD, and that it’s going to look spectacular when the Blu-Ray version comes out. As is usual with Wes Anderson pictures, the music is not just good, but integral to the story - it’s not quite as out front as it might have been if Quentin Tarantino or Zack Braff had been involved, but it’s no more than a notch or two below that. Jason Reitman (Juno) is another director who uses music in this way - which should be evidenced in his new picture Up in the Air, which opened in select cities this past weekend and goes wide on Christmas, and is beginning to emerge as the odds-on favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Having said all of that, though, I still have no good idea about why I failed to connect with this movie in a more emotional way. It works on pretty much every level, including the metaphorical - when Mr. Fox presses for a fancy new house in a nice tree, despite the fact that he and his wife are not especially well off, you get a whiff of the subprime mortgage mess that contributed to what the MSM is now calling the Great Recession; and the consistently blurred line between wild animal and upright citizen is a not-so-subtle swipe at the lack of civility in a society where people crash state dinners, poison pop stars, and fake the peril of their children using wayward balloons. And yet, despite all of this excellence, I still find myself thinking that I did not like it as much as I feel like I ought to like a movie that is this good. I liked it…but I’m just not crazy about it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Another Way to Reduce CO2 Emissions Would Be to Convince People on the Right to Stop Breathing

So it appears that the global warming skeptics are circulating rumors about some environmental data that was dumped at one of the world’s leading climate change research universities. If you Google “environmental data thrown out,” you get 1.15 million hits - the first of which is an article from The Times (that’s the Times in London); and if you Google “university of east anglia environment data,” you get 404,000 hits - the second of which is the same article from The Times (same one). Click here for said article.

Okay, fine. Healthy debate is a-okay. However, the right does not debate in a healthy fashion. They use fear-mongering in place of facts, and of, you know, having a valid point. The article in The Times, talking about this environmental data that was allegedly dumped, says, “The admission follows the leaking of a thousand private emails sent and received by Professor Phil Jones, the CRU’s director.” What they do not mention - and you can use a simple browser Find command to check this, since you’re not going to believe me - is that the word “hack” does not appear in the article at all. This is convenient for the skeptics, as it instills the fear and doubt without - surprise! - making any use at all of context. The e-mails in question were hacked, not leaked; and they were posted on the magic Interwebs as though they existed in some kind of vacuum.

If you dig into the thing even just a little bit, you can find an article here from the BBC and a statement from the university that was the victim of the criminal mischief that The Times so disingenuously refers to as “leaking.” And if you keep digging, you’ll find that The Times is actually owned by News Corporation, which is run by Rupert Murdoch, who is not known for his objectivity.

Oh, and that data that was allegedly dumped? Yeah, that happened back in the 1980s. Boy, it's a really good thing we have those skeptics on the right to feed us good information, right? Heck, yes! As you probably heard, all the scientific research into global warming stopped back in the 80s, not long after this data was "dumped." Technology stopped advancing, access to information stopped improving, and the argument pretty much came to an end. Also, this university, Britain's University of East Anglia, was the only institution in the whole world that ever did any research into global warming. No one did it before they did, and no one has done any research on the subject since. So when they "dumped" their data, all the evidence for global warming - every bit of it that was ever collected in the entire history of human civilization - was lost forever and ever.

Now, can I get an amen?

Sigh. What else can you do but sigh? There are legitimate points to be made on both sides of this global warming thing; but just repeating - over and over again at the top of one’s lungs - that “they threw out the data” is not debate. It’s barely even fact, and it ain’t even close to being even kissing cousins to the most cursory idea of context - not that the right is ever really all that concerned about context. But go ahead, ya dim bulbs, and bloviate all you want; maybe one day I’ll rename this thing The Debunker - although, honestly, continually having to debunk all of this nonsense isn’t really all that much fun.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Walk-on Part in the War vs. Lead Role in the Cage

If we could tax Republicans and conservatives for stupidity and ignorance, we could probably pay for health care and solar panels. A simple illustration, for the (very) simple people who thought Sarah Palin was a good idea.

National Novel Writing Month - Progress Report #3

Final tally for the National Novel Writing Month project is 19,026 words, which works out to 634 words per day. That’s quite a bit better than just-over-400 average I had going on a previous project before I started this November thing - but not even close to the 1667 per day I would have needed to hit the 50,000 word goal. It was an interesting experience though, and I’m looking forward to finding out how much better I do with it next year.

The last third of the month found the disenchanted President giving his final State of the Union speech, one that he had not vetted - nor even shared - with any of his staff, or anyone else at all. It basically called for term limits for Representatives and Senators, as well as sweeping changes in the way election campaigns are financed and executed; and it offered a rare moment of candor from the President to the people, live on TV. That got the documentary filmmaker into his car for a road trip up the eastern seaboard, from Washington to New York - interviewing people along the way to find out what they thought of the President’s speech. And that’s pretty much where I was when November came to an end. Now it’s on to short stories to submit to Ichabod’s Sketchbook. But just for kicks, here’s an excerpt of my National Novel Writing Month effort:

"Morris bin Aziz was a non-religious Jew who had been born to a lapsed American Jewess and an Arab atheist who had sought and been granted asylum in the United States on religious grounds; and because of that bizarre cocktail of cultural ingredients, he had always operated under the assumption that he would have to work double hard for anything he hoped to earn in the United States because - even though he was, by virtue of being born there, a citizen of the United States - he looked different than the white people who pretty much dominated everything he could see around him when he was growing up in the 1970s. He would even have to work hard for the things due him as an American citizen, more so than white American citizens, because conservative people were not deep thinkers and did not believe in progress. His parents had taught him about liberal and conservative early on, because they had to deal with it every day being what they were; and Morris had taken to it like southerners to white sheets and hoods.

And so it was natural that he became drawn to filmmaking as a way to express his liberal leanings in an otherwise conservative society and he had taken to filmmaking with much the same gusto that he had taken up liberalism and he caught a reasonably lucky break when he was able to secure financing for his first feature from a group of Israeli Palestinians who had become fabulously wealthy due a freakish lemon tree inheritance after the passing of a member’s grandmother who had been something of a matriarchal figure not only to the member’s family but also to the family in the neighboring town and the funeral had taken several hours and the group was now trying to follow the grandmother’s wishes and get into show business in some way and they had proudly put up the money for bin Aziz to make his first movie.

But the movie had fared poorly at the box office and the group had become disenchanted with show business at the same time that they still wanted to honor the wishes of their dearly departed grandmother; and so they were at a loss as to how to proceed. Bin Aziz came to the rescue and generously offered to make one more movie on their dime - he had found that he quite liked the work, even if the initial result had been subpar - and that if the second movie failed they could take it out on him in whatever manner they saw fit. But if it succeeded, they would go into business together and keep making movies and continue to honor the dead grandmother for years and years to come.

And behold, the group of Israeli Palestinians - who, by the way, were non-religious - agreed to the bargain but did not tell bin Aziz what they planned to do with him if the movie failed. Bin Aziz assured them that it would not be necessary to plan for such a contingency, but if they wanted to waste their time doing so, they were more than welcome to it."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Deep Thoughts #20

Is it just me, or does it seem like the NFL would benefit quite a bit from selling a Super Bowl that pits two 18-0 teams against each other?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

National Novel Writing Month - Progress Report #2

Unfortunately, report #2 is no more encouraging than report #1. My average dropped from 723 words after the first ten days to 639 words after the second ten days. I would have to average 3723 words a day over the last ten days in order to hit 50,000 words. Needless to say, that’s not going to happen; and I did not get the final third of the month off to a good start by not doing any writing yesterday. Amy and I fell asleep watching the second season of The West Wing, and by the time I woke up at 1:00am, I just didn’t have the energy to sit down and write. (Instead, I lay down on the couch and watched the last three episodes of the first season of The Sopranos, which is due back at the library on Monday, and which I needed to watch so I could move on to the second season.)

At this point, 25,000 words is going to be a bit of a long shot, but it’s still attainable. The last time I checked in, I had a budding story about an American President who had given an interview to a documentary filmmaker of mixed Middle Eastern descent. Since that time, I have added a somewhat mysterious woman who trawls posh Washington hotel bars looking for guys to pick up. She meets the filmmaker, and they begin to have a conversation about religion. Meanwhile, the President is preparing his last State of the Union speech - with looming losses for his party in the upcoming national elections, both in terms of Congressional seats and potentially the White House, and the emergence of a “wingnut out in Alaska.”

I’m not sure how all the threads are going to connect yet - nor when I might get back to this project after the end of November. I still have that original novel I was working on, and there’s a deadline of December 18th for submitting work for the next issue of Ichabod’s Sketchbook, the Irvington literary journal that I have blogged about in the past. Making sure I get a submission in for that is going to be the next goal after this National Novel Writing Month experiment is over.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Well...we’ll definitely be hearing about this picture when the awards start coming down. I hope, however, that we’re hearing just about the performances, and not about the picture as a whole being a strong (or even not-so-strong) contender for Best Picture. The story is of Precious - or Job, had Job been a teenage black girl growing up in late-1980s Harlem - a girl who has pretty much everything going against her. She’s morbidly obese, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child - both of whom were fathered by her own father; and she is played remarkably well by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who will rightly get some awards consideration for her performance.

But it’s Mo’Nique, playing Precious’ mother Mary, who should not only be considered for a number of acting awards, but also win them all. She plays the part beyond well, but it should also be noted that her character is so vile, so absolutely evil, that it must have taken tremendous courage for Mo’Nique - or anyone - to have signed up for the part at all. I honestly can’t think of any quasi-real-life character that I have ever seen on screen who is anywhere near as awful as Mary. There are characters who are vile and repugnant, to be sure; but they are often either wholly fictitious (Voldemort) or anti-heroes (Hannibal Lecter). Even Norman Bates is sympathetic, to a certain degree, because he is mentally ill. Mary is none of these things. She is just an awful human being. (Unfortunately, we get far too little of her back story - apart from an emotional scene toward the end; but that relates to my next point, which has to do with what I thought was some serious tunnel vision going on in this picture.)

Having said that, though, I also have to say that a movie has to stand on more than just its performances; and this is where Precious stumbles. The biggest problem is a major fundamental flaw in the story - which is that there are no real sub-plots. Anything masquerading as a sub-plot - the history behind the abuse Precious suffers, the personal life of Precious’ teacher, the stories of the other kids in Precious’ class, the aforementioned back story of her mother - exists in the story only insofar as it has some bearing on Precious. The focus remains entirely on this one girl, and the story has little room to breathe; and yes, I understand that this is partly by design, but it begins to wear after a bit. While it’s not hard to imagine that an inner-city teenager might have a life full of problems, it does tend to stretch one’s patience when the poor girl continues to be set with problem after problem after problem. I’m not going to go through them all, as there is some (but not much) dramatic tension at work in the reveals, but they just keep rolling along; and the last one, toward the end, is just gratuitous. The reveal even makes it sound like they just tossed it in for kicks.

The herky-jerky editing, ubiquitous close-up zooms, and seemingly blind faith in the virtues of natural light all combine to give the film an air of indie authenticity; but they also feel a little bit forced, like director Lee Daniels and company wanted to make sure people knew they were making an art film. Anymore, I tend to think that this kind of thing is an attempt at misdirection, one that tries to fool the viewer into thinking they’re watching an interesting movie because some of the technical bits are edgy and hip. The folks who made (500) Days of Summer tried the same thing, and fooled quite a lot of people into thinking they were watching an interesting movie - which they were not. They were watching a movie that sucked. Precious doesn’t suck, but it’s not nearly the masterpiece that Oprah and her acolytes would have you believe that it is.

It’s a moderately flawed film that nevertheless manages to do a pretty good job of showing the slow evolution that takes place in the soul of Precious Jones. The shock-for-the-sake-of-shock elements - which, if removed, would reduce the movie from a feature to a short - are visceral, but this is a contemporary movie landscape that has birthed eight - count ‘em, eight - iterations of Saw and Hostel; eventually, you just get desensitized. It’s a well made film, but it just tries a little too hard to say a little too much. Also, I may be a bit too cynical about Oprah (who has an executive producer credit here, along with Tyler Perry). There are millions upon millions of brainless Oprah followers out there who do what she says just because she says to do it, and I can’t really shake the feeling that this movie, in an Oprah-less world, probably would have come and gone with little or no notice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Colts - Patriots

Wow. Just...wow.

And one more thing - the Patriots are dirty cheaters. I defended them during Tapegate, and I've even tried to show them respect, especially during the 16-0 campaign; but after at least two fake "injuries" and something like a million interference penalties tonight, I just can't make excuses for them anymore. I'm not one for bad-mouthing a rival team just because they're a rival team, and I don't like fans who do that kind of thing - regardless of which team they root for. But it's just ridiculous. This is a talented New England team, and they have no need to cheat.

But they do. They cheat, and they play dirty. That last touchdown for the Colts - the one that won them the game? Yeah, Reggie Wayne was held on that play, and it would have been yet another interference call if he hadn't managed to hold onto the ball for the score. New England fans shouldn't stop liking their team just because some of the players are dirty and the coach is an asshole; but you can't really argue that they don't play dirty.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Damned United

My first go at this notice was a rambling thing on endings and how they make or break the picture sometimes; but I couldn’t really see the point of going on and on about it for so long - three big, thick paragraphs - because in the end, the ending doesn’t really doom this picture. In fact, a lot of people are probably going to like the ending, because it’s heartwarming. I’m not necessarily against heartwarming, when it works organically within the framework of the story. Here, it’s rather a dutiful sort of heartwarming - and it takes away from the larger point that the film is trying to make.

This is the story of British football manager Brian Clough, who was young and brash and very talented in the early 1970s when he and assistant manager Peter Taylor led the Derby County team from the bottom of the second division to the top of the first division, unseating the mighty Leeds United team, led by the legendary Don Revie. It also has to do with Clough’s brief tenure as manager of Leeds United - and this is most likely what you heard the movie was about when someone told you about it or you read something about it on the magic Internets; and while it does have to do with that brief tenure with Leeds, it’s just as much about how Derby comes up from the bottom as it is about how Clough fails so spectacularly with Leeds.

Michael Sheen does a terrific job playing Clough, blending the manager’s smooth arrogance with just a trace of uncertainty in places, which helps to reveal Clough’s human side. Interestingly, not much of Clough the manager is shown - mostly what we get to see is Clough the personality, playing the roles of manager, friend, rival, husband, and father; and Sheen gives us different shades for each of these roles. And while that arrogance is in full flower, it is not an artificial or misplaced arrogance; it comes directly from the fact that Clough is, in fact, a very talented football manager.

He’s so good, in fact, that you have a hard time believing, as the story unfolds, that he might fail so spectacularly when one of the best jobs in British football pretty much falls in his lap. There is some arrogance in the way he treats the Derby County chairman - played by Jim Broadbent - but mostly this has to do with Clough going out and recruiting talented players whose high salaries the chairman bristles at having to pay; but the result is that Derby County rises, to the point that they are the best team in the country.

The film moves back and forth in time, with one thread showing the rise of Derby County and the other showing how Clough fails to have the same kind of success with Leeds United; and at first, I got the feeling that it was a tricksy sort of ploy to keep you from noticing that the story wasn’t very interesting - but after I thought about it for awhile, I changed my tune. (It probably didn’t help that some of the early things I read on the film were somewhat negative.) In fact, what happens is that Clough effectively turns Leeds into a no-win situation - largely because of a perceived slight he experiences when Leeds comes to town to play Derby. Clough is excited to meet the Leeds coach, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), a legend in British football coaching - but when the team arrives, a press gaggle sweeps Revie away, and he misses the chance to shake hands with Clough, who has been working hard at playing the host.

Based on what is shown, it’s impossible to say whether Revie meant to avoid Clough or if it was just an accident because of the way that the press was hounding him; but Clough saw it only as disrespect, and he allowed that tiny little blip on the radar to color his ambitions and his opinion of Revie. When Revie left Leeds to coach the national team, Clough swept in and told his new players basically that the Revie era was over and that they were going to be a higher quality team that played fair and won matches the right way; but in his single-minded pursuit of the excellence that Revie achieved, Clough failed to win the hearts and minds of his new players

The structure may be slightly gimmicky, but in the end it does a fine job of building carefully toward a tragic ending; and it’s precisely the way that the story is structured that lets us see not just the fact of the ending’s inevitability, but also why that end becomes inevitable. Near the end, Clough agrees to an interview with the television station that interviewed him the day he came to work at Leeds - without being told, prior to agreeing to the interview, that Revie would also be participating. The back and forth between the two coaches is quite animated, and the audience learns important things about both Clough and Revie. The conclusion of the scene is very powerful - one of the best moments in the film.

The final scene, between Clough and his former assistant, Taylor, is obligatory from a narrative perspective - but is nonetheless a throwaway, and (for me, at least) takes a bit away from what was otherwise a very strong film. The story as a whole piqued my interest sufficiently to seek out a copy of the book. Alas, that’s a bit of a tricky proposition for those of us across the pond. The library doesn’t have it, and it’s not in print in the States, that I can find. It’s on eBay, of course - what isn’t? - but I don’t know that I’m keen to pay to have a copy shipped all the way here from England (most of the sellers are Brits). I would have been more critical of the ending if I had written this closer to when I actually saw the movie - but a number of things have kept me from finishing this until now, and my opinion has softened. Much of the rest of the film is very good - Sheen’s performance, in particular, is exceptional - and the ooey-gooey ending just isn’t enough to doom the film overall.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

National Novel Writing Month - Progress Report #1

Boy, do I have egg on my face. Or something. I have not been what you would call equal to the task of National Novel Writing Month. With a goal in mind of 50,000 words, one has to average 1667 words per day to make that happen. I have been working on something, but my daily average over the first ten days is a scant 723 words, which is a bit less than 1000 words per day less than where I need to be to have 50,000 by the end of the month. To get there at this point, my new daily average would have to be 2139 words; and while 1667 is attainable, 2139 is on the order of Herculean - for me, at any rate. If it were the only thing I were working on, it might be possible; but that would leave off blog posts and probably severely curtail reading time. Not sure that’s a sacrifice I want to make - though probably some of you would be okay with seeing fewer blog posts from me!

So far, I have a story about a documentary filmmaker of mixed Israeli and Arab (maybe Palestinian, I’m not sure) descent who sits down for an interview with the sitting President of the United States and then asks a question that is totally off the wall and that had not been vetted prior to the interview. The President does not give an answer, and the interview is quickly terminated - but afterwards, both men find themselves thinking back on the interview and evaluating the paths they have taken in life that brought them to that specific point. The President is a loose caricature of George W. Bush, but the filmmaker is a complete invention - although for some reason, I see Isaac Hayes in my head whenever I picture this character - Isaac Hayes with sunglasses in a nice Italian suit. That’s not the right image, but that’s what I see so far.

I don’t have a great deal of confidence that I’ll be able to get out to 50,000 words by the end of the month, but hey - you never know. I’ll keep plugging away at it and see what happens. Maybe I’ll surprise myself!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deep Thoughts #19

Al Gore says in his new book that corn ethanol was a mistake; and since Al Gore lies about everything, that means that corn ethanol really works!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Make Your Own Mother Jones Cover!

Mother Jones has created a nifty little web app that lets you upload a photo and turn it into a magazine cover. When it's done, you can e-mail it to your Senators and Representatives in Congress, save it to your desktop, or share it with others on those fancy social networks that further encourage people to get away from the burdensome need to learn how to spell whole words correctly and compose complete sentences. Below is one that I made from a picture of Jackson that I took on a walk around Irvington last week. Click here to make a cover with a picture of your kid!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Deep Thoughts #18

Oh, super. The best team money can buy won the World Series. Let’s put an * next to 27 - it’s artifically inflated because of no salary cap.

Deep Thoughts #17

Does the BMV make you sign an affidavit stating you’re a discourteous/unskilled/dangerous driver before giving you an In God We Trust plate?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

An Education

I was a bit trepidatious going into this one, because the trailer makes it look like the kind of thing that can go badly wrong and leave itself no hope for course correction before the end comes round. Carey Mulligan gets a breakout role as Jenny, a sixteen-year-old Londoner who is bound for Oxford - she hopes, before she dies on the vine under the thumb of her cautious father (Alfred Molina) - when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), the man who seems to be everything her father is not (boiled down to one word, that word would be interesting) and everything she hopes to be once she gets out of the house and out into the real world.

In this country, people would raise holy hell about a mysterious thirtysomething man taking a shine to a sixteen-year-old girl - never mind what the girl thinks about it, nor what her choice in the matter would be; but across the pond, it would seem that no one bats an eye - at least not in this picture’s world. David seduces Carey’s mum and dad as well as he seduces Carey, and Carey seems to be the only one who can be bothered to be interested in finding out what it is this chap does for a living. (I’ll leave you to find out what that is for yourself, because the scene is very good - one of the film’s high points, in fact.)

It’s just a story, though, right? Well, yeah...but it’s based on a memoir, so bits of it are probably closer to true than usual. (I haven’t read the memoir - and if it’s anything like the last British movie I saw that was based on a book, The Damned United, finding a copy of the source material could be tricky.) What keeps it from being creepy is, most importantly, the lack of a sexual element - at least at first; eventually, sex does come into play, but far enough along that you cannot possibly consider that it might be coercion. But beyond that, David and Jenny seem to share a love of life, and a respect for certain boundaries, that lends the relationship an air of legitimacy.

David has seen the world, and Jenny longs to see beyond her house and her school, which is pretty much the extent of her experience before David appears in her life. The screenplay by Nick Hornby - yes, that one - sails along quite dreamily for the first two acts, as Jenny wines and dines on David’s dime, seeing and doing many of things she’s always dreamed of doing but never been allowed to do; but even in a relatively short film (100 minutes or so), a solid hour of seemingly consequence-free quasi-hedonistic excess can start to wear thin.

You could argue that Jenny is innocent and naïve, that she has been sheltered for so long that she cannot possibly see that no good can come from schlepping around Britain and Europe with a man twice her age. That part is probably true; but its caveat, at least for most of acts one and two, is that Jenny doesn’t care about being innocent or naïve, as long as she gets to go out and do something fun. Even when things start to go wrong, they barely start to go wrong; and Jenny accepts the wrongness with a moral relativism that is more alarming in someone her age than is the tryst with the older man in the first place.

Indeed, Jenny never has a crisis of conscience at all. When the story - which is largely free of conflict, a basic and essential element in every story - finally does hit a snag that her fervent wish to be free cannot put right, Jenny simply retreats to the trappings of the life from which she sought to escape in the first place. There are consequences to her actions, but everything she has done is just rebellious enough to be interesting and fun without quite being illegal or terribly dangerous - and at any rate, she never gets carded for anything, so it’s not as though anyone really seems to care. There is mild irony in the idea that, while Jenny wants nothing more than to be an adult so that she can get out from under her parents, the filmmakers treat the story (and by extension, Jenny) with kid gloves. I’d like to get my hands on a copy of the memoir, to get an idea of how much of the story was glossed over to make the film so easy to swallow - but I’m not going to lose any sleep if that doesn’t happen.

And yet...I liked the movie. Mostly I think this is because Nick Hornby did a really first rate job adapting the material and putting his peculiar brand of awkward humor on much of what takes place. The film overall was much lighter than I was given to believe it would be from having seen the trailer over and over and over again, and Hornby deserves the credit for that. Mulligan and Sarsgaard brought off the parts very well, but anyone familiar with Hornby’s writing will pick up the flavor of his work almost from the beginning; and while it is the softness of the writing that ultimately works against the picture, it is also the zippy dialogues and stage directions that propel the narrative forward in the first place. Molina does a fine job as Jenny’s uptight father, displaying range and careful attention to what he says. Sarsgaard plays David as smooth and debonair, with a healthy dollop of oily malevolence lurking behind his smile.

But it is Carey Mulligan who takes this film and runs away with it, delivering speeches and facial expressions and one-liners with a world-weariness that belies both her age in real life and her age in the picture. (She plays a sixteen-year-old, and was twenty-three when the film was made.) It’s this shift in age that makes the character believable, as much as it is Mulligan’s considerable acting chops, though; or it helps her along, at any rate. I was never entirely convinced that she was confident, or capable of feeling fear. Her character should be expressing both feelings eventually, but I don’t know that Mulligan finally takes her there. That’s a minor quibble, though - she does everything else awfully well, especially the frustrated, deadened feeling that pervades Jenny’s soul early in the film and then occasionally again throughout.

I think that the story might be a little dodgy, but it’s awfully well executed by a splendid cast that includes fine cameo roles for Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson and a very brief one-off for Sally Hawkins. For those interested in the written works that led up to this movie, Lynn Barber’s memoir was originally published as an essay in the literary journal Granta; and a follow-up article was published by the same journal this past summer. The book version of Barber’s memoir was published in June 2009 - six months after the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where the film version was in competition.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It Might Get Loud

On first hearing the idea - of putting guitar players from three different generations of rock into a room together to talk about the electric guitar - you might scratch your head in wonder that The Edge and Jack White were chosen to join Jimmy Page in the discussion; but after you watch the movie, you’ll come away with one of two thoughts: either director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) could have made the movie work with any two guitar players to go along with Page - because let’s face it, any movie about rock guitar would have to include Page - or The Edge and Jack White might just have been perfect choices. What I don’t think it’s possible to come away with is that somehow this idea for a movie was anything but a great success.

There are two veins to the movie: one is the meeting of the three guitar players in a soundstage dressed up to look vaguely like someone’s study at the same time that it’s abundantly clear that a movie is being made there; and the other has the filmmakers following the three musicians around the stomping grounds where each man grew up and fell in love with playing the guitar. If there is a weakness to the film, it might be in the way that the stomping grounds portions tend to meander and drift sort of aimlessly from thing to thing, like all Guggenheim wanted the fellows to do was free associate their own recollections of growing up to be guitar players.

The bits on the soundstage are close to perfection, though - especially if you’re into rock music and even more especially if you’re into guitar at all. (I don’t think that you necessarily have to be into electric guitar to be swept away by what takes place on that little soundstage.) Then again...I might be wrong on that. I’m fascinated by the guitar, in part because I’ve always wanted to learn how to play it. Unfortunately, after buying a guitar a few years ago, I came to the conclusion that I don’t really have guitar player hands; but I still like to pick it up and noodle around on it from time to time, and I love to hear it played well in rock and roll songs. So watching three guys talk about the different things they do to make different kinds of sounds - and then seeing them do those things - is fascinating to me. Seeing Jimmy Page play the guitar in something other than stock footage from old Zep concerts is also fascinating.

The Edge talks about his meticulous process for creating the perfect guitar sound for every song - a process that sometimes necessitates that he use a different guitar on every song; and he talks about how the guitar sounds at the beginning of “Beautiful Day” came to be - a sort of happy accident that resulted in a recording of both the chords he was playing and the reverb effects from his amp, which made it sound like he was playing about ten times more sounds than he was actually playing. He then plays the actual chords that he was playing when he discovered that particular reverb effect - and it sounds almost nothing at all like what wound up on the album cut of the song.

And that’s all well and good. I have no problem with U2, but I never really got into them - and I have pretty much no opinion about either the White Stripes or the Raconteurs (although based purely on the music I heard in the film, it seems to me like the Raconteurs was the better band); but I love Led Zeppelin, even if Q95 does play the same handful of Zep songs over and over and over again. Hearing Jimmy Page talk about guitar and seeing him play on the soundstage for The Edge and Jack White (and all of the filmmakers) was really cool. Listening to him rip off the opening riff of “Whole Lotta Love” is a lot of fun. That song gets played too much, but if you can listen to it objectively and try to forget the fact that Q95 can sort of make you hate bands you love by playing too many of the same songs too often, then you really have to admit that, aurally, it’s one of the band’s most impressive compositions. It’s maybe a little easier for me to cop to that because that song happens to be on my favorite Zep record, II.

The most fun, though, might have been listening to Jimmy Page talk about how the writing of “Stairway to Heaven” resulted in his having to come up with a completely new way to play guitar on stage - so that he could play both the twelve-string acoustic part at the beginning and the six-string electric solo. His answer was to use a double-necked guitar with twelve strings on the top neck and six strings on the bottom, and they show some stock footage of Page playing the song in concert. “Stairway to Heaven” is another of those Zep songs that you hear too much, but it’s also one of those songs that is so good that you sometimes forget just how good it is because you hear it so much; but like most things, it opens up when you learn a little bit about its history - and when you can get that history from a primary source like Page, well...so much the better.

There’s more to the film than just these few bits - but they are the ones that stood out most for me. I wasn’t as enraptured by the bits about Jack White, but I did come away from the movie with more respect for him as a guitar player specifically and musician generally. Much of his shtick seems to be an affectation, and more of the serious musician comes across here than you would think possible given his Mad Hatter-style persona. I don’t know that he’s innovative in the same way that Page and Edge have been over the years - but he’s certainly enough of a character to make up for any lack of novelty and presents an interesting modern (or maybe more like postmodern) counterpoint to the legendary Page and Edge.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Wars

I read on the worldwide Internets the other day that there’s a book war going on. Even in a recession, online retailers (sometimes known as e-tailers) like Target and Amazon - among others - are at each other’s throats trying to see who can take the biggest loss on each copy sold of new novels by a handful of the big names in popular fiction. One of these authors is Stephen King, whose 1000+ page doorstop, Under the Dome, bows on November 10th; and I’d be interested in this subject even if there weren’t a new Stephen King book coming out, but since there is, I’m even more interested - because I’m going to buy the book the day it comes out.

The only question is how much money I’m going to spend on it; a secondary consideration is which seller of books is going to benefit from my purchase; and I’m going to leave off with whether or not certain places that peddle books actually deserve the quasi-romantic appellation bookseller, and focus instead on why I should or should not support any of these places where I might obtain the new Stephen King book. (There are other authors with new books out this fall that will be sold online at deep discounts - namely, for $9 or less - by Target and Amazon and others; but Stephen King is the only one of those authors who interests me. Others with new novels that you can get online for cheap include John Grisham, Michael Crichton, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, and Barbara Kingsolver.)

And if you know me at all, then you’re probably thinking that I’m going to say that you should go out and support the local guy - right? Head down to that neighborhood bookstore and put some bread in the pocket of the small businessman who lives in your community and shares your love of a good book. Well...kinda. If you live in Seattle, or are within thirty or so minutes of the Elliott Bay Book Company, then yes - you absolutely should get out and support the local guy; and the same goes for anyone who lives in New York City and can get to the Strand. You people have viable local options that give you the full bookstore experience, complete with newsstand and new releases.

We don’t have that at non-chain places here in Indianapolis. I’d probably have to order the new Stephen King from a place like Bookmamas. On the other hand, I could walk right into Borders and get a copy for somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty percent off the list price. And yes...Borders is a chain; but it’s one that is struggling to stay on its feet - due in part to the recession, but also in part to flagging CD and DVD sales, and to other factors including disastrous mismanagement when it was (briefly) owned by KMart and to an online partnership with Amazon that just never really worked for Borders.

And quite frankly, it’s the best we’ve got in Indianapolis, as far as bookstores go. Some people prefer Barnes & Noble, but I just don’t understand this. Those stores are horribly laid out and way too crowded - even when there are no people in them - and their selection, particularly of literature, leaves much to be desired. (A couple of notable exceptions include their selections of books by Virginia Woolf and Charles Bukowski. I admire both writers, but will always check Borders first; and really, when I say that Barnes has a better selection, what I really mean is that Barnes carries both the first and second Common Reader by Woolf and a larger selection of Bukowski’s poetry. All of his prose, and all of the other books by Woolf, can be found at Borders.) This criticism applies both to their shelves of books and to their newsstand section.

After all, part of the charm of a bookstore is in browsing new items to see what's new and what might be interesting. Little mom and pop places don't give you that, and neither does a place like Barnes & Noble that does not feel cozy and at least a little bookish. (To be fair, the new Borders at Castleton Square doesn’t feel this way, either - it feels like browsing for books under the Friday night lights at a football stadium.) On the other hand, I almost never go into Borders and come out with a book; usually it's a magazine or nothing. When I do buy books, it's usually at Half Price Books, where the books are used - as they are at Bookmamas. But Half Price is entrenched, and has corporate backing; and because of those two factors, they have both a greater supply of incoming books to consider for purchase and more latitude to purchase books in quantities sufficient to keep their selection both fresh and robust.

So I’m torn as to where to spend my money on this new book. Part of me really does want to support the little guy in just about every way that I can and that is financially reasonable; but as long as we don’t have a major indie bookstore here in town, I don’t want to see Borders go away, either. What I am sure about is that I’m not going to go with the ultra-cheap online option - that undercuts the entire concept of bookstores in every way, and I don’t support that at all. (Maybe, as penance for having bought books for 45% off at Best Buy in the past, I’ll just suck it up and order a copy at full price from Bookmamas.)

And no...I don’t own a Kindle.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

It is inauspicious, for me anyway, that National Novel Writing Month starts today. (Technically, for me, it starts tomorrow, since I ain’t done with Saturday the 31st yet.) I have to work tomorrow night, and then open on Monday - which means that I won’t have much time to write tomorrow night when I get home from work. I almost always have Sundays off; and on the rare occasions when I do work on Sunday, it’s usually the opening shift. You could probably count on one hand the number of Sunday closing shifts I have had in the last year. Tomorrow is one of them, though.

The goal of National Novel Writing Month is for writers to hammer out a novel of 50,000 words in the span of one month. That’s 1667 words a day, which is a pretty good clip - even for folks who make a living at it; and it would be 140-150 pages (depending on a number of factors), which is on the low side for a novel in terms of page count. It would actually be more accurate to call it National Novella Writing Month, although even among writers, novella is a word you don’t hear much anymore - like strategery, except that it’s actually a word.

I’ve been thinking about putting aside the novel I’ve been working on and trying to do this thing, and since there seem to me to be several compelling reasons not to do it, I’m trying very hard to convince myself that I actually want to do it. I could blog about the process, at the end of every week and every tenth day - and use that as part of the motivation to keep going even when it feels daunting. (I could also just blog the novel as I’m working on it, day to day, but I’m definitely not that brave yet. If I can do it this year, though, I might think about it for next year’s National Novel Writing Month.)

So that’s pretty much that. I just wanted to throw out what the idea was and post some links about it. Oddly enough, Macworld magazine is always where I am reminded of National Novel Writing Month. I don’t recall ever reading about it in Poets & Writers, although I did let my subscription to that magazine lapse. The links, all from Macworld, are here and here and here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ichabod's Sketchbook #2

The inaugural edition of Ichabod’s Sketchbook, a literary journal publishing out of Bookmamas here in Irvington, is now available, at Bookmamas, for $14.95 (plus tax). Deadline for submissions for the next issue is still December 18, 2009. Reading fee is $15 for three poems (up to 30 lines each) or two short stories (up to 1000 words each). Additional information at: ichabodsscketchbook (at) gmail (dot) com

A Serious Man

Despite what are really quite excellent production aspects - and what might well be a backhanded smack at the god of the Bible’s Old Testament - I did not get the overarching feeling that this was a particuarly likable movie. It is very well made - there can be little doubt that Joel and Ethan Coen are among the finest filmmakers working today - but the main problem is that it’s almost impossible to form any kind of emotional attachment to any of the characters. The writers of the Bible (especially of the Old Testament), whomever they might have been, were not encumbered by the need to reach their audience; they were penning a cautionary tale, almost as a parent admonishes a child without offering a sufficient explanation for some proscribed behavior or required task: “It’s not for you to like. It’s for you to do.”

Well...okay. But the Bible is not offered as an entertainment; it’s an instruction book of sorts - for those who seek admittance to the clubhouse - and it stands on a foundation of blind faith. It pretty much has to be blind, right? It is difficult to imagine anyone who could read the Old Testament and think, “Man, I like where God is going with this.” Indeed, if the Old Testament were stripped of its religious overtones and presented as a secular document - a political platform, say - the candidate would have no chance. “It’s not for you to like. It’s for you to do.”

On the other hand, no one - other than maybe Frances McDormand - is going to be thrown into the fiery furnace if they don’t go out and see this movie. Joel and Ethan Coen have reached that rarified place in American cinema where they can make pretty much whatever movie they want, in whatever way they want, and have that movie rushed into production and released by any one of half a dozen or so (surviving) indie arms of the major studios; and people will go to see these movies because past experience dictates that, by and large, films by the Coens range anywhere from very good (Burn After Reading, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to exceptional (No Country for Old Men). There are exceptions, of course (rumor has it that Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers were nigh on unwatchable - especially if you believe all of the little old ladies who wanted refunds on the latter because of all the F-bombs) - but the exceptions here only prove the rule, that Joel and Ethan Coen are filmmakers of the highest order.

Which makes A Serious Man not a little frustrating. It’s an excellent film - but I’m pretty sure that I don’t ever want to watch it again. The art direction fuses 1950s cultural sensibilities with late-1960s kitsch so well that it’s almost like a new decade has been born; and if not for the repeating pulsations of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” you might well think you’ve slipped into some kind of Seuss-ian fantasy land beyond Thunderdome. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is in a complete comfort zone with the Coens, and his compositions really let a lot of scenes breathe and take on a life of their own - even if some of those compositions are a little too angular and fancy. And the actors, as is so often the case in films by the Coens, fully inhabit their roles; as a bonus, they also disappear into those roles here, as there are no name actors in the film. Leaving aside No Country for Old Men, the name actors in Coen brothers movies almost never disappear into their roles; instead, they inhabit those roles, and rather than seeing a combination of actor and character that creates something new, you see a known face creating a caricature of a ridiculous person who would not be at all interesting if not juxtaposed to a famous face.

That might have something to do with why I couldn’t get behind Larry Gopnik, the protagonist (uh, kinda) in A Serious Man. Michael Stuhlbarg, whose previous work includes a lot of things I have not seen and one picture I’m interested in seeing when it works its way onto video (Cold Souls), plays Gopnik; and he both inhabits and disappears into the role - a guy who has been oblivious to the little things in his marriage that have added up to his wife’s (seemingly) sudden request for a divorce - and in a way he manages to come off like a Coen character we’re used to seeing, but there is much about the character that is forced, including Stuhlbarg’s delivery and his situation in many of the scenes. I haven’t seen Stuhlbarg in anything else, though, so I can’t say for sure that it’s his performance that causes the sort of herky-jerky progression - but it would not surprise me if this were the case.

Gopnik is criticized by his wife’s new lover as not being a serious man, which seems to be a way of saying that Gopnik has not done enough with his life. He continuously protests - particularly to his wife, concerning her reasons for wanting a divorce - that he hasn’t done anything; and what he’s saying in the empty space of that statement is that he hasn’t done anything except what has been expected of him in his life. He’s a modern day Job, persecuted constantly for reasons of which he cannot conceive; but Job is comforted, to an extent, by his faith in his god. Gopnik, though Jewish - and the picture as a whole is not so much steeped in Judaism as it is positively drowning in it - pays only lip service to faith; and his attempts to receive counsel from the religious leaders in his life are rebuffed at every turn, which echoes the way God seems to ignore Job in the Bible.

But there is no sense of hope here, none of the reassurance readers of the Bible get that Job will one day find peace though he suffers constantly throughout his life. I’m sure the film's dearth of hope is by design; and as an overall criticism of religion - particularly of the god of the Old Testament - it’s effective. The suffering that Gopnik endures - being cuckolded, having redneck neighbors on one side and a wily temptress on the other, being strung along about getting tenure at work, boarding a brother who can’t seem to catch a break - is shown as ridiculous, as are his rabbis, a series of whom are recommended to him for counsel; and though all the roles are pulled off pretty well, especially Fred Melamed as Gopnik’s wife’s new lover, there’s not really a single character in the movie that you find yourself wanting to root for. And that’s too bad, because the space these characters inhabit is so well-constructed and expertly presented that it fairly begs to be lived in by people whose fates demand to be cared about.

I’m sure there’s probably some Big Theme here that I’m just missing - and that would make the picture open itself up to me way more than it did; and maybe a second viewing would bring more of that theme to the front of my mind, but I don’t know how long it might be before I ever watch this one again. I’ll tell you, though - there’s a scene toward the end where the cops come to arrets Gopnik’s brother; and if one of those cops had been John C. Reilly reprising his role as police office Jim Kurring, it might have made the movie a whole lot more interesting.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Left-Wing Movie Report



Capitalism: A Love Story
Believe it or not, I had never seen a Michael Moore movie before I saw this one. I don’t know that I’m missing all that much. With the rare exception (James Toback’s Tyson, for one), documentary film basically exists to inform rather than entertain - so for me, the mark of a successful doc is how well it sheds light on things I did not already know. Having said that, this film is hit and miss. What Moore tells us about the financial meltdown is not news; anyone who has paid even slight attention to the news in the last year or so knows most of these details. The interesting parts are when he goes out into the field and talks to people who have been affected by the financial crisis; there should be way more of this. Oh, and his thesis - that capitalism is the source of the trouble - is inaccurate. The cause of the trouble was greed. Capitalism does not work unless it is regulated. Period. End of report. Next case. Unfettered free market capitalism is no more viable than communism or Glenn Beck. The financial mess the world is in is proof of that statement, an enduring legacy of Ronald Reagan, one of the worst Presidents in American history other than his veep’s progeny.

Earth Days
This one was way better than I thought it was going to be. For whatever reason, I was expecting self-righteous hippie environmentalists decrying as a right-wing Nazi anyone who doesn’t live in a tree and who refuses to shower or to groom him- or herself. Instead, what I got was just a bunch of people who think it’s a really good thing to protect the environment and take care of our finite natural resources - and who wanted to share that concern with the audience. It’s hard to argue with this positiion when it’s presented in such an apolitical way. It even manages to give credit where it’s due to Richard Nixon, who was mostly a disaster, of course* - but who also created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed into law the Clean Water Act and an expansion of the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon
Actually, there’s one other thing about documentary that’s really good - when it gives you footage of awesome people who died before you had the chance to become interested in them. I was five when John Lennon bled out on the steps in front and lobby of the Dakota Hotel in New York City, and twenty-something before I got (mildly) interested in the Beatles; and it was several years after that before I realized that I was really, truly a bleeding-heart left-wing liberal (this is also called coming to one’s senses, for those who still think that Rush Limbaugh and a whoopee cushion are substantially different things). Up until I saw this movie, I basically only knew anecdotal things about John Lennon; and there was quite a lot of good information in the movie to help expand that knowledge. The movie also opened up a lot of his songs, both solo stuff and stuff that he did with the Beatles.

* Has anyone else noticed that the last three consecutive, two-term Republican Presidents have been remarkable disasters? You’d think people would learn to vote better; but then again, the learning curve in this fading republic is flat like Kansas.

The Big List #16



Atheists Unite!

Richard Dawkins and his new book - and yet another link-heavy Cosmic Log blog. I’ve only read articles about and by Dawkins, but none of his books. I’m terribly fascinated, though. I got The God Delusion from the library, but had to take it back before I got around to reading it. Perhaps once I get some of my own books read and disposed (see below), I’ll get around to Dawkins.

Joe Biden Under the Radar

Excellent article on Joe Biden and what he contributes to the Obama administration. Everyone knew Obama would be an improvement over Bush; and while it makes sense that Biden would be an improvement over Cheney, Biden has his own idiosyncracies that are...well, not quite as criminal as Cheney’s - but potentially irksome, nonetheless. Nice to know that, so far, he has not taken up the mantle of the Sith that might have been passed down to him over at OEOB.

Needful Things

Most excellent post by Roger Ebert on how books can fill up the spaces in one’s life - and take on a life of their own. I freely admit to a love-hate relatioship with my books. On the one hand, I’m never at a loss for something to read. On the other hand, they take up a hell of a lot of space. Every year I tell myself I’m going to pare it down - and yet, every year, the stack of books I accumulate is bigger than the stack that I read and set aside to sell.

I Smell Sex and Candy

Esquire article on how surges in vampire popularity coincide with surges in “carnal crisis,” and also about how the current surge has to do with young straight women wanting to have sex with gay men - or so the author says. The first part of the theory is more interesting, and the only downside here is that the article is only about 1000 words. A much longer treatment of this idea would be terribly interesting.

And Just To Be Fair...

HOPE artist Shepard Fairey was disingenuous about which AP photo he used to create that Obama poster. Surely you’ve seen it, right? Liberals and Democrats are never going to come anywhere near the level of total suckage that the conservatives and GOP have achieved since Herr Reagan was sworn in - but that doesn’t automatically make all of them good, either. I could probably do a better job pointing out gaffes on the left, but honestly - who picks on their own side as much as they pick on the other side? Exactly. The problem with the right is that they have both the ideology and the methodology wrong; the left, when they err, usually only errs on the methodology.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deep Thoughts #16

To see how retarded Twitter users, or maybe just Republicans, are, Google Meghan McCain, Twitter, and tank top and see what, ahem, comes up.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Deep Thoughts #15

Are we really supposed to take seriously those people whose comments make it clear that in their eyes Obama can do no right, no matter what?

Deep Thoughts #14

Complaining about Obama doesn’t make new racists out of people whose parents did such a bad job raising them that they already were racists.

Deep Thoughts #13

It’s very impressive how so many Republicans who were stupid enough to vote for Sarah Palin have become Nobel Peace Prize experts overnight.

Deep Thoughts #12

I like how President Obama gets slammed for an award he didn’t even campaign for. Do you birther Republican morons think he’s Norwegian now?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jiallo's African-Caribbean Cuisine

Jiallo’s is a restaurant out on the northwest side (roughly 56th and Guion) that offers what they call African-Caribbean cuisine in what is certainly the most stripped-down and minimalist dining room I think that I have ever eaten in. I don’t know the west side all that well, and someone who does might be able to refute this next point, I don’t know - but this seems like a terrible location for a restaurant. There’s not much of anything in the area, no chance of attracting any foot traffic, and Guion Road is bloody annoying to drive.

I read about this place in the Star’s weekend section a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned it to Amy - the dish pictured in the review, jerk chicken with red beans and rice and fried plantains, looked appealing; and both of us like to try new things to eat and to support the independent place whenever we can. By an unusual scheduling fluke, I had today (technically yesterday) off, so we roped my mom into watching Jackson, and off we went.

By minimalist dining room, I mean one big open space with tables and chairs and a handful of booths; stark white walls; and a bar where no alcohol was being served and a handful of people were hanging out and not drinking. There were four other people at tables when we got there, so we took an open booth and sat down. The owner, Jiallo himself, brought menus and took our drink order, and we ordered dinner when he came back with the drinks. Amy had the jerk chicken ($11.99) we saw in the picture in the paper, and I chose the curried chicken ($9.99 - pictured). The menu said that each came with either red beans and rice or mixed vegetables, and we both chose the red beans and rice. The jerk chicken also came with fried plantains.




And then the waiting began. And continued. And continued some more. And then out came two plates of fried plantains, which were quite nice - though we were only expecting one side of plantains, the ones with Amy’s jerk chicken. They were crispy outside and tender inside - sweet, but not overly so, and not especially greasy, though there was a bit of a sheen left on the plate when they were gone. Next came more waiting and then - surprise! - some fried rice that Jiallo had just whipped up in the back. The review in the paper said that he often prepares things that are not listed on the menu, and then brings them out for people to sample. He’s got an interesting take on fried rice. It had a dusky, smoky sort of flavor and clumped together like it was sticky rice. Most fried rice I’ve encountered is made up of mostly rice, with bits of other things - usually vegetables and sometimes a bit of egg; this was pretty much rice, though Amy reckons she forked a wayward green bean along the way. I believe I saw a sliver of onion in there somewhere. Either way, both little plates of rice were gone in no time - and I think we’d both have a go at it again if it ever shows up on the menu.

Then more waiting. Later on, we learned that it had been especially slow that day because of the rain, and that they had run out of most of the prepared food around six o’clock or so. When the entrées finally did arrive, I could tell why they had taken so long. The chicken on both plates was literally falling off the bone, and that takes time. Mine was awash in brilliant yellow curry sauce that was flavorful without masking the flavor of the chicken - and it was very mild curry, so those who don’t dig on spicy food can order this dish with confidence. Amy’s jerk chicken was slightly spicier, though still pretty mild, and had a good sweet and smoky flavor that also did not get in the way of the flavor of the chicken.

The red beans and rice, as they were, left a bit to be desired, though; they were not bursting with flavor, but were instead dry and a little on the cold side. This was remedied, however, when Jiallo came back around and asked if we wanted some more "gravy" for the red beans and rice. We both said yes, and he brought out two little bowls of the sauce, which was full of ox-tail and great big white beans and had a very earthy, buttery taste that was easily the best thing I tasted during the meal. I poured it over the red beans and rice on my plate and then, magically, the red beans and rice vanished almost instantly.

And then he brought out two little plates of mixed vegetables, which neither of us had ordered and which were probably offered to make up for the long wait, which he acknowledged was out of the ordinary and for which he apologized. And the veggies were lovely - tender but firm, and very simply seasoned with pepper and just a hint of salt. Also to make up for the wait, he knocked off the drinks and sides from the bill, though we did not ask that he do that.

The food was a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait - and based on conversations we had with Jiallo and others which we overheard, the slow service seems to have been an anomaly. It’s also apparently anomalous for the place to be as empty as it was - just a handful of diners - when we got there at seven o’clock; and that’s encouraging, because it’s the kind of place you have to make an effort to get to. I’m cautiously optimistic that a return visit will be just as enjoyable from a service standpoint as tonight’s visit was from the culinary end of things.

4202 West 56th Street
492-1603
Mon-Sat 11-930
Sun 2-8

Friday, October 09, 2009

Earth Days (#1)

Go see this movie. It's one week only, and there's pretty much no way you're going to have to worry that it might sell out. You might be surprised to learn that this isn't so much an activist movie about the envronment as it is a straight history of how the environmental movement formed, beginning with the publication of the book SIlent Spring, by Rachel Carson - and told by many of the people who were there at the beginning and to whom the environmental movement meant - and still means - very much. Almost entirely stripped of politics, the film tells the story of how people gradually woke up to the fact that what humans were putting into the environment, in terms of pesticides and pollutants from factories and cars, was eventually going to kill us - and what they started to do about it. Lots of stock footage, as you would expect in a documentary - but lots of nice sweeping shots of modern-day city skylines, too.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Boys Are Back

I imagine there is a segment of the movie-going population in the world that will not only want to see this picture (as opposed to being compelled to watch it in the course of doing one’s job), but that will also enjoy the movie once they have seen it. I reckon most of those are going to be women - at least as much because the male lead is the very, very pretty Clive Owen as because the weepy family story appeals to people who like to have everything work out in the end.

Of course, everything works out in the end - and no, that doesn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of the movie for those who are going to enjoy it. This is the kind of movie that has to work out in the end - there’s not some question of what’s going to happen because it is not at all a challenging film. (Most of the people who are going to think that this is a movie they would like to see are people who are not going to be interested in being challenged by the movies they see.)

And yes, I’m pretty much just going to trash this movie - so if that doesn’t interest you for whatever reason, you’ll probably want to move on after this paragraph. The movie is about sports writer Joe Warr (Owen), who quite suddenly loses his second wife to cancer. This forces him to start participating in the upbringing of his young son Artie (I’m pretty sure that, at one point early in the movie, someone called this kid Danny - but I could be wrong), something he has not done much of in the almost seven years of Artie’s life. Joe brings home the bacon, and his wife Katie raises the kids and keeps the house in order. The fun quirk? Joe has another son by a previous wife (whom he left when he got Katie pregnant), and it’s time for that kid to come round for a visit, just at the moment when all of this other stuff starts to go to hell. Doesn’t it just figure?

Like I said, everything works out in the end. Don’t even worry about it. There are a couple of loose ends - including Joe’s fate at his job and the status of the relationship between Joe and his new friend Laura, who has a little girl who is Artie’s age - that director Scott Hicks leaves hanging; but most of the plot points are neatly resolved, as they are supposed to be. Does it matter that the main conflict in the movie, apart from Katie’s sudden death, turns on a couple of improbable incidents - losing a cell phone in an unlikely (and brief) bar fight, say - that make you wonder how much of the story screenwriter Allan Cubitt had to fabricate from Simon Carr’s memoir? Not really. Does it matter that there are seemingly interminable shots of the vast Pacific Ocean that seem meant to indicate how lost Joe fears he’s going to be if he actually has to try to be as good a father as his wife was a good mother? Not really.

It’s all just fluff and too many close-up shots that are either hastily or simply poorly composed, too many lines uttered in measured melodramatic cadence, and not nearly enough gnats and flies in a kitchen that Joe never makes much - correction, any - effort to clean up. “The place looked better when Artie’s mother was alive,” he says. There are a handful of genuinely moving emotional moments, about half of which occur in the surprisingly effective opening that kills off Joe’s wife; but most of the emotional punch is overwrought, and by the time we get around to an ending that is so cloyingly sweet and completely inorganic, you may have to be reminded that this film was based on a true story - because most of what you have seen smacks of bad fiction. Really bad fiction.

Friday, October 02, 2009

I'm Speechless. I Am Without Speech.

Tonight at work, I was reading an article about the scandal involving the guy at CBS who tried to extort money from David Letterman, and the text quoted below was posted as one of the comments to the article. If we could figure out a way to increase - and here I’m thinking something like an order of magnitude - the number of religious people on this planet who are as well-reasoned as the person who posted this comment (identity listed only at “walt2,” with no link to a profile or anything like that), homo sapiens as a species would be in so much better shape.

"To the other Christians out there; why should Christians expect non-believers to live up to, or be remotely interested in living up to the 'Christian' moral code? Honestly, that code, in and of itself, seems like foolishness to most non-believers. It's ridiculous to expect someone without the indwelling spirit of God to be interested in sin, holiness, etc. The only reason Christians are different is because of the new life (God's Spirit) residing in us. We aren't inately better in some way than everyone else. The main difference is that we have experienced regeneration which has opened our eyes to spiritual things in ways the non-believer can't see. But we are no 'better' than any one else. It is God's presence in us alone that allows us to consider as valid - and hopefully to live by - a different moral code. Why should we expect anyone who is not a believer to be interested in that same standard? Where were we anyway, before the presence of God entered us? Our life in Christ now is not accomplished by our own efforts, no matter how 'mature' we may be - it's all because of his presence. We aren't holy, he has become our holiness, our goodness. Dave is no hypocrite. He doesn't claim to be something he is not. I like Dave and think he is an incredibly gifted guy. He has undoubtedly hurt one or more people in his life by his actions. But infidelity is not the unforgivable sin. If we Christians claim to be something we are not - somehow 'better' than everyone else, we become hypocrites. The only difference is that we have had our guilt before God taken away by the work of Christ. 'We are saved by Faith through Grace, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.'"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lorna's Silence

I had never seen a Dardennes brothers movie before this one, and I’m not sure if that gave me an advantage or disadvantage going into Lorna’s Silence. I’ve said before that I like hard movies, but I maybe should have modified that to say that I like hard movies that are interesting; but it’s not really that this is one isn’t interesting...I think it’s more along the lines that it tries a little bit too hard and makes some stylistic choices that are aimed more squarely at esthetics than they are aimed at the practical concerns of telling the story. I also don’t think it’s an especially hard movie - but I do think that it wants to be, and that Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne had it in the backs of their minds that they were making a hard movie.

We’re dropped into the story already in progress, with Lorna coming back to her apartment and getting ready for bed, fending off an offer from Claudy to play cards. The tension between the two is obvious, although its origins are not. In due course, all becomes clear; but in the early stages you sort of have to tease out for yourself what’s happening and why it’s happening. Jérémie Renier plays Claudy, a Belgian junkie who agreed to marry Albanian Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) for money, so that she could gain Belgian citizenship. Lorna’s part of the quid pro quo is to turn around and marry a Russian so that he can become Belgian.

This is not, however, Utah; so Claudy has to go, first. The Russian brokering the deal, a guy called Fabio, plans to have Claudy offed and to make it look like an overdose. Claudy is trying to quit cold turkey on his own, and junkies are known for their recidivism (paging Scott Weiland) - so Fabio figures it will be no big trick to rig an OD. Lorna, on the other hand, would prefer to go the way of divorce, on the grounds that Claudy beats her. Claudy does not beat her, however - so they have to pretend to have arguments and Claudy has to pretend to hit her, but he’s so strung out and codependent that Lorna can’t manage to get him to hit her. She winds up having to hit herself; and even though this is a little pathetic, there’s a scene where she hits her against the corner of a wall, and it’s incredibly funny - although it’s probably not supposed to be. It just sort of happens, and the humor is in the spontaneity of it, more so than in the actual injury she inflicts upon herself.

Some would argue that a person trying to gain citizenship under false pretenses is not a particularly moral person, and to a certain extent that’s true; but there is a morality to Lorna in spite of that, a sense of attention to right and wrong. It would be easy for her to manipulate Claudy because of his addiciton, but she doesn’t do this; in fact, she makes a reasonable effort to help him get off the drugs, and their relationship evolves to the point that a love scene that would have seemed unlikely early in the picture actually turns out to be entirely organic and extremely poignant when it happens. Unfortunately, this scene - along with most of the natural progression of both the storyline and the character development - is waylaid by a massive temporal cut, around halfway into the picture or so, that is so jarring in terms of continuity that I actually thought the person who had built up the film had gotten the reels mixed up.

That did not turn out to be the case, however. The reels were in the right places, and the story pretty much picked up where it seemed to have left off so abruptly - just a bit further down the line; but it took a hugely melodramatic turn that seemed to shift the tone of all of the characters who had appeared to that point. Lorna, whose morality had been so finely tuned in her relations with Claudy, suddenly became too moral, too eager to tell the truth - to the point that she puts her own life in danger. I don’t want to give anything away, even though I know nobody reading this is going to see this movie (it ain’t in American); and there’s not much more I can tell you about the story without getting into the major plot point on which, a little more than halfway through, the film turns.

The Dardennes seem to be delighted with their minimalism in this film; but the economy of spoken lines combined with their apparenty affinity for hard jump cuts keeps the movie from flowing at a good pace. And the minimalism, wed initially to a kind of gritty realism that spins an effective - if somewhat lethargic - story, jettisons that realism after the monster time cut (and its attendant shifts in plot and tone) and lurches toward the end in the hands of new mistress melodrama. It’s an unwelcome shift, and it undermines a film that initially had some solid promise.

I read a couple of articles about this movie in Film Comment and Cineaste, before I saw the movie, and that may have been a bad thing because I had a pretty good idea of the story going into the picture. The progression of the story and the way the details were filled in during the first act didn’t really get to work on me the way it would have worked on someone who didn’t know anything about the picture ahead of time. I thought Arta Dobroshi did very well playing Lorna, and Jérémie Renier was even better as Claudy, though he wasn’t on screen for very long. But even taking all of that into account, I think the major shift in plot and tone would have turned me off no matter how much I knew or did not know about the movie going into it. That could well change on a second viewing, however. I just don’t know that that would ever happen, especially if I really mean to keep up with catching up on every movie we have ever played.

One week only. (Probably.)