Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sign a Petition - NPR on the Front Row

Apparently the people who decide who gets seated where in the White House press room will soon be making a decision as to who gets the seat vacated by Helen Thomas. The contenders are NPR, Fox News, and Bloomberg News. MoveOn has a petition for folks to sign if they support giving the seat to NPR. For anyone who might be interested, click here to sign the petition.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Deep Thoughts #38

This could be socialism - or just people helping people. Like in, you know, society. The right persecutes that which they do not understand.

Deep Thoughts #37

Would Obama have to refudiate his oath of office to funnel money to the Palin campaign? If she’s nominated, then he wins re-election easily.

Deep Thoughts #36 - Special Topical Cuyahoga River Edition

In memory of James Gammon, I am briefly re-naming the blog to honor the business Charlie Donovan poached when he hired Lou Brown as manager.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Am Love

I don’t think anyone in my family is Italian. My dad’s side of the family is from North Jersey, where there are certainly plenty of Italians, but Peddie is a Scottish name. Dad must have had quite a lot of exposure to Italian culture growing up, though, because the influence of that culture is readily apparent in his speech and in the foods he likes to eat. That Y chromosome hasn’t mutated much in me, because I’m pretty much an idiot for pasta and mob stories. I Am Love is neither pasta nor a love story, but it is a movie that was shot on location in various parts of Italy; and it stars Tilda Swinton, for whom I am also an idiot.

This would probably still have been a fine movie if they had taken away everything but the sweeping cinematography of the shooting locations - Dolceacqua, Milan, and San Remo - but there was also the excellent starring role for Swinton, who played Emma Recchi, the almost stir crazy Russian wife of an Italian textiles heir. The story is pretty standard - bored older woman falls for passionate, creative younger man while cold, distant husband is out of town; but it’s freshened up a bit by the young lover’s occupation (Antonio is a chef, and apparently a pretty good one) and how he seduces her with his food as well as his body, and by a nostalgia for her home country that begins to emerge in Emma. It’s also somewhat refreshing that neither Emma nor Antonio are drop dead gorgeous, and that the sex isn’t the only attraction.

There are love scenes, of course, but there are also cooking scenes and outdoors scenes - lots of outdoors scenes, in those beautiful Italian locations - and a real sense from Swinton’s Emma of just how much of herself she has suppressed over the course of her marriage to a man with whom she clearly is no longer in love. A subplot concerning Emma’s daughter Elisabetta, who reveals her homosexuality to her mother but says that she will not tell her father because he would not understand, reinforces the idea that women sacrifice their happiness when they feel compelled to suppress their true selves in order to maintain the stability of the stultified, patriarchal family structure. (It’s also a backhanded slap at “traditional,” conservative thinking - not that many of those people are going to see this movie, since it ain’t in American.)

The only problem with the film - and it’s a not insubstantial one - is the injection of the primary conflict that drives the story to its climax. I had read in several places that this film is a melodrama, and that was concerning because melodrama usually doesn’t work very well for me; but I didn’t detect much in the way of melodrama through the first two acts. It turns out that the reason for this is because they were saving it all for the third act. The primary conflict in question, of course, is the revelation of Emma’s infidelity; and a couple of established plot points combine to make the actual reveal pretty effective. It’s from that point to the end that the film starts to go off the rails. Swinton mostly holds it together, though, and there’s a very effective scene, with her daughter, that mitigates much of the almost slapstick feel of the end of the film.

And then it ends perfectly - at least for me. It doesn’t happen very often that I get to a point in a film where I’m thinking, “End now, end now, end now,” and then it does, in fact, end. This one did, though, and cut right to the credits. The lights came up, and most of the other people in the auditorium started muttering with surprise. I heard one person say, “I guess that’s it, huh?” There’s a tiny little quasi-scene, at the beginning of the credits, which really didn’t work, and sort of undermined that excellent ending; but it wasn’t really enough to take away from how good the film was overall. It is, however, along with the high melodrama in the third act and the clumsy climax, enough to keep the film seated in the very good, but not great, section - but just barely.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Solitary Man

This is the story of Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), a former car dealer - indeed, New York City’s “honest car dealer,” whatever the hell that means - whose life seems to be descending through Dante’s circles of hell on a lubed luge. He’s lost his dealership and his wife (played by Susan Sarandon), most of the respect he has built up over the years in the business and social communities in New York, and will in short order be losing his girlfriend and his apartment. Is it posible that he could even wind up serving milkshakes at the neighborhood deli in the town where he went to college?

Yes! It is possible! How? How, you say, could such a thing be possible for someone who had so much, who was so loved and respected and successful? He was on TV for crying out loud! People knew him because he was the car dealer whose commercials they saw on TV. (That’s how a lot of people relate to local attorney Ken Nunn, but whatever.) The answer to the question comes at the end of the film, and there’s a hint at the beginning; but mostly what we have is a series of scenes in which Ben Kalmen makes bad decision after bad decision, along the way using his salesman’s pitch almost as though he wants to justify being an unemployed salesman.

Technically, this is not bad. Douglas plays it well, almost making you believe that a dude who’s pushing seventy can still seduce the barely-legal set. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of the cast exists only with respect to Ben’s character. Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, and Danny DeVito are mostly wasted as Ben’s ex-wife, current girlfriend, and friend from college whom he hasn’t seen in thirty years. His wife and friend are more sympathetic to him than the girlfriend, which serves to support one of the film’s overall themes, that the comfort and love you build up over time in a relationship with a person (whether lover or only friend, and regardless of gender) is far more important, far more durable, than retaining in perpetuity the ability always to hit it with the hottest girl in any room.

This is the lesson that Ben needs to learn, the knowledge that can help him start to build a baseline of stability in his life. Most of the film is concerned with prodding him gently in this direction, with help along the way from a surprisingly patient array of people who always manage to be there to pick him up when he stumbles. Two of the less wasted characters are his daughter (Jenna Fischer) and a college kid he manages awkwardly to befriend (Jesse Eisenberg). They share more scenes with Ben than the other characters, and see a broader range of the Ben Kalmen experience - which means that they are both charmed and taken advantage of by him. That they remain supportive through to the end says something both about which is the real Ben Kalmen and about how well Michael Douglas has been able to sell what should be a thoroughly unlikable character.

The glaring problem is that there is no real causal relationship between the downward spiral and what got him going on it in the first place - at least, not until the end. Once that explanation comes, it is surprisingly satisfying (particularly given the somewhat cloying way in which it is rendered), but I’m not sure that it’s enough finally to anchor a film that has drifted somewhat aimlessly for so long. This type of cynical, world-weary character seems to cry out for a voice-over monologue, a device that would give the audience some sense of the true nature of this character, and what he thinks about his life, how he understands the things he’s doing. Ben Kalmen spends plenty of time in this film waxing philosophical (and giving advice that he almost never realizes is going to wind up becoming bad advice), but you almost always get the feeling that he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Having said all that, the ending does work reasonably well, even if it is a little too cute and cloying; the final shot is a little bit clumsy and not entirely convincing; and the result is a film that doesn’t quite achieve what it has set out to achieve. Directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien have a good go at it, though; and they certainly give Michael Douglas plenty of room to operate, but a couple of major flaws in the script is too much for even his considerable talents to overcome.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Walking the New Leg of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

The newest completed leg of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail runs from the intersection of Park Avenue, Mass Ave, and Walnut Street on the east (in the Chatham Arch section, near Yats) to the intersection of Indiana Avenue, St. Clair Street, and Paca Street on the west (just west of Ransom Place, near IUPUI). It was officially opened on June 18th with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and a section of it - the Glick Peace Walk along Walnut Street between Meridian and Capitol - was officially opened earlier this week.

Amy, Jackson, and I walked the length of the new section this past Monday evening (June 28th), after I got home from work, and found it to be an excellent little walk. The east end of it, in the Chatham Arch section of downtown, has sort of an old world feel to it - like you might find Lady and the Tramp sharing a plate of pasta in an alley somewhere along the line. From the intersection of Park/Mass/Walnut, you follow Walnut Street west for a couple of blocks, to New Jersey Street. Then the trail drops down a block to North Street, which goes for three blocks to Pennsylvania Street at the southeast corner of the American Legion Mall.

This part isn’t “finished” like the rest of the cultural trail, but the entire section of sidewalk bounding the mall is considered part of the cultural trail - and then the finished section picks up again at Walnut Street west of Meridian. The next two blocks consist of the Glick Peace Walk, which honors various historical Americans with descriptions of their lives and sculptures depicting their faces. Then Walnut Street continues west until it conveys you across a wooden bridge over the Canal Walk and then along a curved path past the Canal Court apartments and around a little bend that puts you out on St. Clair Street.

Facing west on Walnut Street at Capitol Avenue

As I may have mentioned before, I'm not a professional photographer, and I was struggling with the sun while taking most of the pictures during this walk. The shot below was interesting because of the way that the yield sign caught and reflected the light from the camera's flash. The sign itself is not actually illuminated.

Bridge over the canal, seen from Walnut Street

View of the Canal Walk from the Cultural Trail

View of the Canal Walk from the Cultural Trail

Then you cross West Street and follow St. Clair a bit further, along the western edge of the Ransom Place neighborhood, until you come to Indiana Avenue, where the trail does a bit of a switchback southeast along Indiana Avenue and comes to what, for now, is the end of the line. According to the trail map, that western end will eventually follow Blackford Street south through part of the IUPUI campus and White River State Park, almost to Washington Street. The eastern end will eventually work its way up Mass Ave toward 10th Street, where it will hook up with Monon Trail.

Facing southeast along Indiana Avenue