jakebe: (Entertainment)
The Pyramid (2014)
This is a minor found-footage horror movie that I had been interested in mainly because I thought (mistakenly) that it was directed by Alexandre Aja. He's a horror director I've really come to like after watching High Tension, the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and Horns. It turns out he only produced it, which is a real shame. Under the hands of some better filmmakers, this could have been really good.
The Pyramid is a faux documentary set during the Egyptian uprising of 2013 about a group of archaeologists uncovering an ancient structure that appears to have been built and then buried underground. After unearthing the apex of the pyramid, they find a way inside -- and a series of events lead them further and further into the byzantine hallways. It doesn't take long before they discover a malevolent force trying to keep them there, and kill them one by one.
The set-up and a lot of the action is actually fairly well-done here. I was impressed by the plotting; in a lot of found-footage movies, the characters have to contort themselves to have a reason to keep filming, or to go deeper into a horrible situation. Here, I thought it was fairly well-handled if a bit obvious that they were expositing. Once the scientists make it inside the pyramid and the proceedings get underway, the atmosphere changes dramatically and the sense of peril mounts really well.
Still, a lot of the dialogue is just clunky, and Denis O'Hare (hi, Russell Edgington!) is the biggest name and best actor there but you wouldn't know it. The ending and the revelations about the true nature of the pyramid might work or it might not, depending on your tolerance for warped Egyptian mythology and low-budget (for a feature film) CGI. Even though the archaeologists and documentary crew are really put through the ringer, it doesn't quite feel like torture porn because there are clear stakes and a hope -- however small -- that these hapless men and women will survive.
If you're a found-footage enthusiast (like me) and are looking for a decent B-grade horror movie that's slightly left-of-center, you could do worse than The Pyramid. It's not astonishing, but I thought it was solid enough.
The Book Thief (2013)
A little girl is given up for adoption to a poor but lively German couple, right around the time the Nazi party is coming to power. After her new father discovers she can't read, he teaches her and through that process instills in her a love of books and stories. As Hitler's grip on Germany tightens, their Jewish and progressive neighbors are rounded up and disappeared. The community changes. And the son of the father's wartime friend (himself a Jew) comes to their door seeking sanctuary.
The Book Thief is an adaptation of an Australian novel written by Markus Zusak, and it's pretty obviously one of those movies that come out during Oscar season as a prestige picture. The cinematography is beautiful, the direction is measured and restrained, and the acting has that stiff, important quality -- for the most part.
Here, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and newcomer Sophie Nelisse make up the family that binds together through the onset of World War II, and they actually do a pretty wonderful job. Rush is breezily amiable as the cool, engaged dad; Watson is unrecognizable as a muttering, severe house-frau. Nelisse is an effortless actress, moving through the story with whatever is required of her. It's quite impressive to watch these three, especially as the hard exterior of Watson's housewife cracks and you see the effect that the war and the political situation has on her.
And yet, the story itself doesn't quite land with the weight it's clearly trying to. It meanders from subject to subject with the expansive air of a biography but it doesn't quite leave you with anything you can take with you. The framing narration -- the voice of Death talks about the proceedings with a bemused, detached air that's really grating -- isn't as clever or thought-provoking as it thinks it is. And honestly, the ending is a bit of a let-down in its obviousness. Instead of being emotionally affecting, it feels manipulative instead.
Still, I don't think I've ever seen a movie that explores the lives of ordinary Germans during the Nazi regime, and for that alone it's worth a look. The performances are solid enough to keep you engaged even as you roll your eyes whenever the movie tries to prey on your sympathies. The only Oscar nomination it managed to earn was Best Score, and the music from John Williams is quite well done. I just wish that it was in service to a movie that had been more artful in what it wanted to do.
The Sacrament (2013)
More found-footage horror! This time, a documentary crew from Vice magazine travels to Bolivia after one of their fashion photographers receives a letter from his estrange sister inviting them to a religious commune that's been started there. Upon arrival, they're more than a little freaked out by the vibe they get from the followers of "Father", and just when they're about to shrug and say "different strokes for different folks" the movie takes its turn.
What follows is an updated and fictionalized account of Jonestown, one of the biggest mass suicides in American history. Directed by Ti West, this move maintains a great sense of tension throughout; he really knows how to mine the vague unease one would feel among an isolated group of fanatics. As events unfold and escalate, it becomes increasingly clear that the documentary crew are in over their heads, and that discovery is appropriately terrifying.
The main reporter, Sam, is distractingly stiff and unconvincing as the narrator of the documentary. As things unravel and it becomes harder to justify the decision to keep filming, the framing of the found-footage format begins to suffer; you're not sure why the camerman would keep documenting an increasingly desperate situation. A lot of the dialogue rings hollow, especially the stuff surrounding Father -- the actor portraying him has a off-beat charisma all his own, so he makes it work regardless.
Ultimately, this is a great movie for found-footage and Ti West fans, but I'm not sure it's a must-see film. If you're in the dark on a Friday night and are looking for something to get the blood pumping, this is certainly a good choice.
jakebe: (Default)

Final Destination 3 (2006)
If you've never seen a Final Destination movie, it pretty much goes like this: one person in a group of high-school/college students sees a horrifying calamity unfolding in their imagination right before it happens and freaks the hell out. They (and a number of friends and acquaintances) avoid the disaster, but Death -- not one to be cheated -- stalks after them one by one, making sure to correct the tapestry of fate before too long. It's a really neat concept, especially since it's a slasher film with an existential threat more than an actual killer.

Even still, the Final Destination series has always vaguely disappointed me because it flirts right up to the line of doing something really interesting or thought-provoking with the premise before retreating back into the safety of its Rube Goldberg devices (each character is killed in an increasingly complicated set of freak accidents) or sophomoric foreshadowing and discussions about death. Even the really good ones (like the first two) are fun, but leave me with a sense of dissatisfaction. Whether it's fair or not, I always kind of want them to be more than they are.

The third movie doesn't hold up as well as the first two, and it's here where we start to see the seams of the formula showing. This time, the epic accident is a roller-coaster malfunction that's fairly impressive but not nearly as harrowing as the plane crash or highway traffic accident that preceded it. The build-up to the set piece is stocked with groan-worthy dialogue, and it almost feels like the writers have gone out of their way to make these characters as unlikeable as possible.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim!) leads the cast here, and she does a pretty good job. Her love-interest co-lead (Ryan Merriman) is Wonder Bread bland, though, and it all goes downhill from there. The group of "lucky" students saved from Death by roller coaster only to be killed in arguably more gruesome ways later on are almost uniformly terrible, and it makes me feel mean to wish horrible things to happen to them only to see them suffer some pretty terrible fates.

Horror movies are at their most fun when they have engaging or fun characters to root for, an inventive premise that's fun to explore, and a sense of inevitability that never lets the main characters off the hook (even though they've won...for now). With Final Destination 3, there's really only the knowledge that everyone you're seeing will suffer and die, and after three installments of it the whole affair feels a little sadistic. There needs to be something more to it; inventive and gory ways to kill supporting characters just aren't enough at this point.

Still, if you're a horror franchise completionist or like watching annoying characters die in terrible ways, pull up a chair and pop it in. The DVD has a "Choose Your Fate" feature that opens up a few alternate scenes that might actually be fun.


Tammy (2014)
This was a rare misfire from Melissa McCarthy, a sort of mumble-core comedy that no one really knew what to do with. It was loaded with talent (Alison Janney! Susan Sarandon! Kathy Bates! Sandra Oh! Dan Akroyd!) and had a potentially amazing premise, but for some reason it felt like a hybrid between a Duplass Bros. movie and an earnest Cameron Crowe road-trip film.

Tammy (McCarthy) is fired from her dead-end burger job after wrecking her car running into a deer (don't worry though, the buck is fine) and comes home to discover her husband in an emotional affair with another woman. She runs next door to her mother's house and threatens to leave -- only to be pushed out the door by her grandmother (Sarandon), who insists on coming along. She is, after all, providing the car and the trip money.

A series of misadventures follows, of course. We see Tammy and her grandmother Pearl getting into all kinds of trouble, and it becomes increasingly clear that Pearl might actually be the hotter mess of the two. Both women learn a bit more about themselves than they bargained for, and stumble into potential relationships with a retiree and his son after Pearl has a one-night stand with the older gentleman.

The movie takes a few dark turns that feel oddly specific yet not-quite-jokey that makes it hard to navigate the emotional turns. Pearl is an alcoholic diabetic, which...we're never quite sure how to feel about. She's funny when she's drunk, until she isn't, and her diabetes is a potential problem, then maybe a huge one, then maybe not so much. It's almost like the writers themselves aren't quite sure what to do with their own characters.

Nevertheless, both McCarthy and Sarandon are great when the material allows them to be freely funny, and the beginning of the film is awesome enough to carry you through the uneven, emotionally-dissonant second act. Tammy gets increasingly dramedic as it goes on, smoothing down the jagged edges of its protagonists as if admitting it would be kind of exhausting watching them be as crazy as we know they could be for a whole two hours.

Still, it's worth watching. There's great stuff there, and the worst of the film is never bad enough to make you tap out. If you're looking to put on a comedy, laugh hard for thirty minutes, then maybe fall asleep in front of your television, this is one for you.


Jersey Boys (2014)
Clint Eastwood produced and directed this movie adaptation of the jukebox musical, and you can tell that this was a fairly faithful conversion from stage to screen. A lot of the narrative tricks are there -- actors breaking the fourth wall to speak to the audience, smooth transitions from expository monologues to in media res action, even the way actors speak their lines point to a theatricality that was meant for another medium. This isn't a bad thing per se, but I think I would rather have someone trying to take advantage of the fact that film provides them a certain amount of freedom they wouldn't have had on stage.

I think your enjoyment of the film will largely depend on your awareness of the catalogue of the Four Seasons and how much you like the unique vocal stylings of Frankie Valli. His signature sound is a high falsetto that lowers to a kind of nasally tenor(?), which isn't for everyone but I find pretty nice. The story moves from the early days of Valli's career in a rough New Jersey neighborhood, to the formation and dissolution of the Four Seasons, to his later solo career and family troubles. The music matures accordingly, from nascent 50s doo-wop and crooner covers to 70s pop standards that I was surprised were written so early. Valli's songwriting partner, Bob Gaudio, is responsible for some legitimately great music.

The story, though...that's something else. While it doesn't fall into the standard musical biopic structure (earnest ingenue works hard from humble beginnings, breaks through to success, falls to excesses of drugs or affairs or general assholery, makes a comeback that ends the film), it does spend most of its time on the unhappy career of the Four Seasons. Tommy DeVito, the group's de-facto leader and money manager, is portrayed as a selfish and irresponsible grand-stander who accrues a shocking amount of debt during the group's success. His personality makes it difficult to enjoy the breakthrough of the Four Seasons, and he's the single reason the group busts up.

Frankie Valli himself produced the movie in part, so I have to be a little suspicious of the narrative here. He had enough pull to appear on the credits, so he probably had enough pull to influence the story. Did DeVito really sink the Four Seasons? Is it really true that Valli's post-Seasons career was almost entirely working whatever jobs he could find in order to pay back DeVito's debt? It feels like he could have pushed that part of the narrative to justify his absence to his family; it's clear that his wife and daughters were bitter about his not being there, and the movie suggests the only reason he was on the road so much was a misguided sacrifice of one type of family for another.

Still, the performances are solid, the direction is competent and the song arrangements are decent. It's a reasonably good adaptation that will serve you well in place of a more immediate or energetic live-theatre show. If you're really big into 50s doo-wop or jukebox musicals, or you want to see Christopher Walken as the world's most paternal mob boss, give Jersey Boys a try.

jakebe: (Default)

Philomena (2013)

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) was a disgraced adviser for the British government trying to determine what he should do next. At a party, he was approached by a woman suggesting he write about her mother, an elderly Catholic who had been forced to give up her son for adoption while living in a convent. Though initially reluctant to do a "human interest" piece, he eventually agrees to meet the woman, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench). Her story -- uncovered in fits and starts despite opposition at nearly every turn -- proves to be shocking, tragic and almost unbelievable. Of course, most of it is true.


This was a lovely surprise. It was on our radar mainly because it had been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and Judi Dench had been nominated for Best Actress. Honestly, who can resist a great Judi Dench movie? She's just amazing.


Here, she largely disappears into the role of Philomena, an old, slightly doddering woman who remains devout despite the failings of the Church she believes in so strongly. It's impressive to see her so ordinary and simple, pulling out only hints of her natural gravitas when she needs to underscore a dramatic beat. It's unlike almost any other role I've ever seen her in.


The movie is directed briskly by Stephen Frears, who guided another British treasure to a Best Actress Oscar (Helen Mirren for The Queen). The more we learn about Philomena's past, the more sympathy we feel for her and the deeper our desire to know what happened to her son. The answers lie in Washington, DC, and they're just as surprising. How the film handles each revelation, allowing just enough time for the shock to settle in before moving quickly through the fallout, is kind of a marvel of pacing. This is a film that knows what it's about, and doesn't waste time getting there.


Coogan is great as Sixsmith, the prickly journalist who bonds with Philomena through the search but never quite stops being himself. A final confrontation underscores the wide gulf between the reporter and his subject, and while you understand Sixsmith's reaction (and probably share it), Philomena's gives us much-needed grace and closure.


If you're waiting for more episodes of Downton Abbey or Doctor Who, this is going to be your jam.



Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Robert Towne wrote and directed this California crime film, which is pretty confusing. On one hand, he wrote the classic film Chinatown and here he is returning to the genre that made him. But on the other, maybe Roman Polanski deserves all the credit and visibility he gets for Chinatown; while that film's many, many twists are managed quite nicely, this one feels inert -- like we're standing in one place, spinning in circles, and calling it entertainment.


Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell, Michelle Pfeiffer, JT Walsh and Raul Julia all star in this movie but it's hard to care about that. Gibson is a former drug dealer who Russell's detective believes is selling again. They're at each other's throats for a good bit of the movie, but it's hard to care about that either. The dialogue sinks pretty much every exchange, aiming for crackling and witty and landing far short.


After an hour or so, when we see the seventeenth slow-burn conversation between two of the characters, I realized that I had no idea what was going on, why the characters knew what they did or why they were saying what they were saying to each other. Ryan and I turned it off without finishing it, which almost never happens. Life's too short and there are too many great (or at least more interesting) movies to watch.


I can't say I recommend this one, but if you want to see an early Mel Gibson movie where he hasn't quite gotten the hang of an American accent or Kurt Russell looking like he's auditioning for the part of Patrick Bateman, this is your movie.



Last Action Hero (1993)

The real star of this movie is Frank McRae as Lt. Dekker, the stereotypical shouting black police chief, but Schwartzenegger actually does pretty great work here as well. This is one of those movies that got buried by bad timing and kind of unfair press; it opened a week after Jurassic Park and held up poorly against Sleepless in Seattle later. By the end of the summer, everyone called it a bomb and to this day there's not a lot of fondness the way there is for other overlooked classics like, say, UHF.


But the movie is a really solid concept held back just a bit by shaking execution. To be fair, it's a bit of a high-wire act that had never been done before -- Last Action Hero tries to straddle the line between a parody of action movies and an homage to them, while also being a parable about the value and nature of storytelling. It swings for the fences, and that earns it my respect, and it mostly succeeds. Everyone gives it their all, and it's really enjoyable if not quite as emotionally effective as it tries to be.


Teenage movie-buff Danny Madigan finds himself transported into the world of his favorite action hero, Jack Slater, through a magic ticket handed down to him by the elderly projectionist of an old movie theatre that's about to be torn down. His presence in the film shades the live-action cartoon enough that the stakes are changed, especially when the sub-boss Benedict (Charles Dance!) slips through to the real world and realizes that the rules of the cinema don't apply. Benedict is a great villain -- smart, amoral, calculating, and he makes a nice foil for Schwartenegger's meathead protagonist, Jack Slater.


Not everything works here -- the big scene introducing the magic ticket is pretty corny, and not every self-aware joke lands quite right -- but Last Action Hero gets more right then it gets wrong. The action is at once silly and engaging, and the comic timing actually works well slipped in amongst the thrill beats. Schwartenegger is game for self-parody, and he's a lot funnier than he's given credit for.


It's still a minor film in his filmography, but it's good enough for me to say it's overlooked. Then again, I've been pleasantly surprised by a lot of Schwartenegger's panned films; I thought Jingle All The Way is a legitimately-good Christmas movie, and Kindergarten Cop is not great, but fun. The same could be said for Last Action Hero, but I hold it up a little higher because of all it tries to do. It's a mild success that could have been an unmitigated disaster, and that deserves at least a little love.


If you want to see Schwartenegger poking fun at his oiled-up machismo or the role that probably got Dance the part of Tywin Lannister, I'd recommend this one. It's a great one to pop in on a Friday night where you just need to decompress.
jakebe: (Buddhism)
Over the weekend Ryan and I watched Dead Man Walking, with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. In case you don't know too much about it, here's a brief synopsis: a nun is sent a letter from a Death Row inmate (who murdered two teenagers, raping the girl before he killed her) requesting her help with his case. She accepts, of course, and strikes up a relationship with this man as well as the families of the victims. This is a situation completely outside of her experience, and she has to navigate not only her own feelings but the exceedingly raw and difficult emotions of everyone involved. The families of the victims are understandably angry, and want to see the inmate die. The inmate himself is difficult to like but desperate, and Sister Prejean's investment in him lends him a grace and dignity he's unwilling to take on himself. It's an incredible, moving film and if you haven't seen it I can highly recommend it.

The movie leaves you with an awful lot to think about. Besides the obvious hot-button topic of the death penalty, there's so many questions that are difficult to answer. Sister Prejean believes in the idea of a basic human dignity, that simply because a man exists he's entitled to a certain set of considerations. Does that really exist? Can someone do something that strips them of that? The families of the victims certainly seem to think so, and that clears away the biggest argument against putting this inmate to death -- that as a human being, there is something fundamentally wrong about a system that allows him to be effectively killed by the state. How do you reconcile the idea that people can become something...less than human with other religious ideas? How do you square the idea of the death penalty and all of the reasoning for it, with a Christian mindset?

OK, so that loops back to the death penalty, but removing that question entirely, you can't fault the victims' families for being so angry, so hurt. This is an act so devastating that the consequences have come to define who these people are. Because the actual victims are no longer alive to carry the mantle of victimhood, their parents take it up themselves. There's a finality to it that makes it so much more difficult to handle because it's so senseless and needless. How could someone else take a life so lightly? How could someone be so self-absorbed that they don't think about the suffering they're causing someone else? Normal people don't rape and murder a teenage girl. Normal people don't just kill people on a lark. Anyone who does that must be broken, immoral, soulless. That's the only reason people can make sense of something so random.

Once the certainty of his death sets in, the inmate must face the reality of his life. On one hand, you wonder if he would have arrived at that point if death weren't staring him in the face. On the other, you feel that Sister Prejean's assertion that there is a basic goodness in him has been affirmed. Despite the inmate's racist, sexist attitude through most of the movie, his love for his mother and family is undeniable. It's difficult to reconcile the Sister's experience of this man with the reality of what he did, and in fact she's the only one who even comes close to taking in who he is entirely. It's because she's the only one who wants to.

And this brings me back around to faith, its purpose, what it does for us when we truly understand it. The movie is set in the south, so just about everyone is touched by religion in one way or another. Yet it seems that Sister Prejean alone has any idea how to behave compassionately towards all parties. Even the prison's chaplain states that the inmate is simply a bad person out to manipulate her, to use her for his own ends. Was she able to coax goodness out of him simply because of her faith? Would she have been able to do this if she had been more directly involved. If, for example, someone were to do something similarly horrible to Ryan or my mother, would I be able to see past his actions to the basic goodness and decency I believe to be there? It would be incredibly difficult for me to look at someone who's hurt someone I love, see past what they've done to something I only believe is there and struggle to see their worth. Why would I? If they don't believe it's there themselves, why should I work so hard to lead them there?

One of the things I took away from the movie is how difficult it is to truly forgive someone who's wronged you in a severe way. I think we've all been hurt deeply by someone at some point, and it's really easy to put them in a class beneath you (or at least the people you admire) so that you have an excuse to hold on to your hatred, bitterness, anger. I do it myself -- there are grudges that I'm holding on to even now, fueled by the fallacy that someone is...less than. I think it's a completely natural impulse that helps us to preserve our self-image and our ideas about the world and our fellow man. But it also holds us back from holding the full measure of the human experience.

Any one of us is capable of doing something unspeakably awful. Any one of us, from the people we admire most to the lowest of the low. But we're also capable of great love, of wonderful things, of being generous and kind and astonishingly open. It's difficult to reconcile the two extremes of our potential, but I think we absolutely need to if we ever hope to look at other people with any sort of clarity.

We all have our people or groups to hate or mock. For most of my peers, it's going to be Christians for all kinds of understandable reasons. A lot of us grew up in strict Christian households that focused on avoiding God's wrath over embracing God's love. We live in a society where the public discourse seems to be dictated by people who insist on forcing people to recognize their own self-absorption, a trait that is as anti-Christian as they come. Most of us have been hurt tremendously or known someone who has been hurt by someone in the name of Christ. We see it so consistently that our idea of the typical Christian has been stereotyped, a sort of empty vessel that mirrors any delusion that makes them feel superior. And this may be a bit of an extreme equivalency, but it's the same process that these people use to justify the death penalty to themselves, or the cutting of our 'social safety net', or anything else we think of as harsh and isolating. They've been hurt and made to feel afraid too. This is their reaction, the same as ours.

It takes compassion, strength and resolve to see that, and to base your actions on that knowledge. A lot of us choose our delusions because the alternative is too difficult, including myself. Put simply, it's easier to hate the people who are unkind to us. It's so, so much more difficult to love them, to find them worthy of love. Most people can't do it. I can't do it. And that's what makes Sister Prejean's story so remarkable. In simply opening herself up, as honestly and completely as she knew how, she found a way. Sometimes it takes that kind of contradictory behavior -- to surrender yourself to a new experience, to cling tightly to the ideals that will guide you through it -- to do something that the rest of us see as impossible.

Blindsided

Jan. 28th, 2011 08:46 am
jakebe: (Race Relations)
The husband and I saw The Blind Side over the weekend. We didn’t have much interest in seeing it, really, but there were three things that recommended it. Sandra Bullock won Best Actress last year for her role in that, it was based on the real-life story of Michael Oher, defensive tackle for the (best football team in the world!) Baltimore Ravens, and I was kind of hoping it would teach us a little about football through analogy and dramatic narrative, which everyone knows is the best way to learn something.

As you might have guessed, the movie turned out to be a disappointment. The plot was handled in the most pedestrian manner possible. The poor actors weren’t given much material to work with because of that. The father just got to look after his wife while she did something “amazing” and say “That’s my wife!” in an awed voice. The son got to be the Loveable Scamp. And the daughter got to do the whole ‘personal integrity is so much better than social acceptance’ arc with maybe two scenes and a dozen lines of dialogue.

There were only two actors who stood out. Sandra Bullock hammed it up as much as she possibly could in the role of Leigh Ann Touhy, and you have to admire the gleeful abandon with which she played a Southern spitfire. Still, she gives more a flashy performance than anything. Every time she’s on the screen, you’re well aware that she’s acting her *ass* off. As vibrant as it is, you can’t help but be taken out of the movie by the artificiality of it. So, as much as she tries, I can’t say that Bullock manages good acting here, so much as “hard” acting.

Quinton Aaron, though, is another matter entirely. There’s an earnestness and open pain on his face that looks entirely honest, and he gives the most subtle, effecting performance of the bunch. If he had better material I’d say this is an Oscar-worthy performance in itself, but every line he speaks seems to be engineered for optimal tear-jerker status. The impressive thing, though, is that he actually makes it work, and about a third of the way into the movie (when sad-sack Michael Oher says he’s never had a bed before) I felt a bit teary. It was really surprising, though, when Ryan started to openly mock the movie right around the same time.

We paused the movie and talked about it a bit. Ryan thought that it was racist, which caught me off guard. I thought I was watching a movie about good people doing a good thing for someone who hasn’t had that happen a lot for him. But where I was taking my cues about what we’re meant to see by watching the people, Ryan was taking his cues by watching the way the story unfolded -- particularly with the contrast between Oher’s neighborhood, and the community of his adopted family.

Sean Touhy, according to the movie, owns dozens of Taco Bell franchises, which allows him to live like a stereotypical rich Southerner -- gated mansion communities, fancy Christian private schools, country clubs, the works. Oher comes from the ‘wrong side’ of Memphis, though, with nothing but crumbling projects and weeds sprouting up through the sidewalks, trash and junkies lining the gutter, that sort of thing. Here’s where the writing gets laughable, by the way. It is very clear that the only contact with inner-city youth these people have had is through after-school specials and maybe seeing Boyz N The Hood by mistake late one night.

Ryan’s problem, I’m thinking, is that the broad strokes are so simplistic here that it portrays white people as happy, giving folks straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and most black people are stuck in this spiral of poverty, drugs and violence. The only black people besides Oher we see never smile without a sneer. Their life, by and large, is misery and struggle, whereas white people live easy, unburdened by the troubles of the world. His problem is that this presents a scenario in which the situation is static, and the lots of black people can only change if they escape somehow into the welcoming, Christian arms of white affluence.

But here’s where it gets a little sticky. While Ryan here has a pretty good point, I’m reluctant to ding the movie on this. Why? Because it feels very much like the route I took to get where I am today.

My situation wasn’t so extreme; I had a bed, and a family, before I left them behind in the inner city to move out to southern Maryland, and then northwest Arkansas, and then northern California. But there are also a lot of similarities there, too, if only in mindset. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think there are two kinds of people for inner-city youth. Those who look around, decide they don’t want to be there, and spend a significant amount of time and effort getting out, and those who stay, dealing with the reality of the situation in their own way.

If you look at other movies that at least touch on inner-city life, you’ll find the same narrative over and over again. Young black guys and girls just want to get out of the ghetto. Sometimes it’s to make a good ‘normal’ life, and sometimes it’s to be rich and/or famous. But the idea of getting out of the ghetto is almost always a driving force for the characters who find themselves there.

I think this points to an uncomfortable cultural mindset. We’ve gotten away from thinking that poor inner-city neighborhoods can be saved, and for about a generation now we’ve come to think of them as trials to be endured until we can escape them. When was the last time a story about a community coming together to kick out drug dealers or better its environment made the cultural consciousness? Most everything I see focuses on one person with the potential to get out, and the dramatic tension revolves around whether their better angels or...worse demons win out.

The worst sin of The Blind Side, then, is trying to present this conflict with unintentional tactlessness. Everything and everyone in the movie is painted with primary colors, without shading, so the contrast between the Touhys’ lives and Oher’s is pretty stark. I don’t think they’ve given us anything that we haven’t seen before, though. And maybe that’s the part that’s not OK.

The question becomes, though, what do we do about that? When I was growing up, most people who had embraced the inner-city lifestyle had developed a healthy distrust of anything outside that culture. Most people who indulge in the drugs and violence that plague those streets aren’t doing it because there are no other alternatives available; they’re doing it because it reinforces so many beliefs -- neither black or white, but American -- about what it takes to live the dream. It’s not hard work that does it, or persistence -- it’s about projecting this image of power. In my mind, the drug dealers are just playing the same game that Wall Street powerbrokers do. The rules are different, and the consequences are more immediate and violent, but the fundamentals are one.

So what can you do? Unfortunately, I don’t think the answer is as simple as having all the ‘good’ guys in the community band together and kick out those mean old drug dealers. Those dealers are my brothers and sisters, someone’s father or uncle. Black communities can’t remove an element that’s so connected to them. For better or worse, the problem is who we are in so many ways. And because of that I think it requires a fundamental shift in perspective. Getting rich and powerful has to be taken away as a priority; these guys need to develop a sense of responsibility and connection for the pain and suffering they cause. And I, for one, have no idea how to do that.

None of this is easy for me to say. I don’t like thinking that I’ve given up on the neighborhood in Baltimore where I grew up, that I think it’s some unsolvable problem. But I have. The problem is honestly beyond me, and rather than devote so much time swimming against the stream trying to solve it, I’d rather just leave it alone and focus on getting whatever happiness I can.

Michael Oher did the same thing, and became a left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. I have no idea where he lives now, but I’m thinking that it’s nowhere near my family’s house.
jakebe: (Default)
If they had played "If It Takes Forever" at any point, it would have been game over for me.

jakebe: (Default)
You don't mess with Liam Neeson. Ever. He is one of the most efficient ass-kickers I have ever seen.

The Oscars

Feb. 23rd, 2009 08:56 am
jakebe: (Default)
So that was the best awards ceremony I've seen in a long time...possibly ever. Jackman was refreshingly earnest and unabashedly fun; he reminded me of Craig Ferguson, only with a hotter accent. And holy cats, he looks great in a tuxedo. :9

I know people are going to be crabby about the idea of past Oscar winners describing what was great about the performances of this year's nominees, but I thought it was really well done. It's a format that could grow stale, and with the wrong presenter who will use the task as an opportunity to steal the spotlight (I'm looking at *you* Cuba Gooding, Jr.), it could be disastrous. Most of the presenters, though, really did a great job with it, and fit the show's newfound purpose ("celebrating the year in movies") quite well.

The way the awards were presented really worked well, too -- tracing the path that a movie takes from writing to pre-production to post-production helped to give the show cohesion, which isn't entirely necessary but works well enough to keep it. The presenters were awesome, and the montages (a necessary evil) were far better than they'd been in recent years. Overall I'd say the show was a resounding success. I hope they keep the new format for next year!

Sean Penn had a sense of humor. Both Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz were adorable. Ben Stiller's bit was hilarious, but I felt a little bad for Joaquin Phoenix. It feels like Hollywood is turning its back on him. When Reese Witherspoon takes a dig at you on national television, it's clear how low you are on the totem pole.

Anyway. Yay "Slumdog"!!

Holy Crap

Feb. 14th, 2009 11:58 am
jakebe: (Default)
"Waitress" is a near-perfect movie. If you haven't seen it yet, you really should. One of those gems that just comes out of nowhere. Holy crap, I say again.
jakebe: (Default)
This has been going around.

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times: Gone With the Wind
2. Name a movie that you've seen multiple times in a theatre: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie: Paul "Sympathetic Asshole" Giamatti or Cilian "Piercing Stare" Murphy (:9).
4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie: Tom "Moonbat" Cruise or Wesley "Black Keanu" Snipes
5. Name a movie that you can quote from: Pulp Fiction, bitches!
6. Name a movie musical that you know all the lyrics to all the songs: Hairspray!
7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with: Moulin Rouge!
8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see: Babe: Pig in the City. I know people have seen the original, but the second one is even better in some ways. It's strange and beautiful and heartbreaking, which makes the optimism pop that much better.
9. Name a movie that you own: 28 Days Later
10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops: Joe Piscopo. Who knew he could be so funny? ;)
11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in?: Yes! I can't remember for the life of me what the movie was, though.
12. Ever made out in a movie?: No, but now that you mention it...
13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven't gotten around to it: Hedwig and the Angry Inch definitely applies.
14. Ever walked out of a movie?: No, but I really wish I hadn't stuck around for the end of Mission to Mars.
15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theatre: A.I. Yeah, yeah, people bitch about the false ending a lot, but it wrecks me every time.
16. Popcorn?: It's hideously expensive and very bad for you, but damned if I don't want it every time I go to see a movie.
17. How often do you go to the movies?: On average, about twice a month. So months we don't go at all, some (like blockbuster season) we go once or twice a week.
18. What's the last movie you saw in the theater?: Australia. It was a reasonably good movie, and I'm a sucker for Baz Luhrmann.
19. What is your favorite/preferred genre of movie?: If left to my own devices, anything depressing and character-driven. Also anything with cute animals. I admit to seeing Kangaroo Jack in theatres.
20. What was the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?: God help me, but Ernest Goes to Jail.
21. What movie(s) has/have changed your life?: Pleasantville, Babe, Moulin Rouge, Contact, Requiem for a Dream.
jakebe: (Thoughtful)
Yesterday's workout:

Time: 25 minutes
Distance: 2.25 miles
Top Speed: 6.2 mph
Calories: 233

Today's workout:

Time: 25 minutes
Distance: 2.27 miles
Top Speed: 6.3 mph
Calories: 234


I ran four times this week! I'm aiming to repeat the feat, but I'll say no more than that for fear of jinxing myself.

Saw Hotel Rwanda, which makes me feel like I have no reason to complain about anything for a good long while. Really, no matter what kind of crappiness is happening in my world, it's very likely not even close to what happened in Rwanda in 1994, or even other parts of Africa right now, or even closer to home. It's incredible to me the amount that some people can endure, the cruelty that we are capable of. What's the most sobering is how we in the West largely ignored what happened there.

I don't mean this to be an indictment, but I think we do have a tendency to turn as blind an eye as possible to hardships elsewhere. There are actually food riots going on in parts of the world right now, even as we grouse about $4 gas. And I think the main reason we try to put this out of our minds is we feel powerless to do anything about it. Really, what could we have done that would have ended the bloodshed in Rwanda fourteen years ago? What can we do to make sure people can afford to feed themselves halfway around the world today?

I really don't know, but after seeing this movie I feel the need to do something. This is not something I can just do nothing about. Any suggestions?

In other news, there's been a pretty neat rabbit trail that's developing in interesting ways. The librarian at Adobe is an avid Lost fan, so she used to come in occasionally and swap theories with me. During one of these geek-gasms she narrowed her eyes and asked me if I were a sociology or psychology major, because I spoke like one. I told her I was interested in sociology, and she told me she had a degree in it! From there we went off about it and she promised she'd loan me some of her old textbooks to read.

Months pass, more Lost theories were hashed out, but she couldn't find the textbooks. Instead she gave me the names of a few sociologists she liked who had written interesting books. One of them was Johnathan Kozol, a name that rang a few bells for some reason or another; I remember shelving a lot of his books at the Dickson Street Bookshop, but for the life of me I couldn't think of the name. I did what I always do when something like that messes with me enough; I looked him up on Wikipedia.

Oddly enough, I never discovered the name of the book, but I *did* discover that he cofounded the Greater Good Institute at UC-Berkeley. What is the Greater Good Institute, you might ask? Well, it's a think tank devoted to applying the principles of social psychology to foster a positive change in the world. It tries to take a scientific look at concepts like gratitude and forgiveness, and looks for ways to apply them to the world at large. It also studies ways these things are already being applied, and how and why they're successful. This is ultimately fascinating.

I'm going to have to snag a few of these magazines, I think.
jakebe: (Thoughtful)
Weight This Week: 169.8 lbs.
Weight 2 Weeks Ago: 169.2 lbs.
Change: +0.6 lbs.

Time: 34 minutes
Distance: 3.26 miles
Top Speed: 6.7 mph
Calories: 342

Chest Press: 80 lbs.
Bent Arm Pulldown: 45 lbs.
Push-Ups: 30
Crunches: 30

I've hit a bit of a rough patch, all things considered. The death of [livejournal.com profile] toob's rat Lily put all sorts of notions in my head, and it's been tough to shake them. I always think I'm a little bit more comfortable with the notion of loss and death and ending than I was before until I face it head-on, and then a lot of things I thought I had resolved come rushing back.

It doesn't help that the news reports are all doom and gloom these days. Oil prices are continually on the rise, hitting record peaks week after week for months now...and this is even before our peak driving season. It struck me that between rampant heating use in the winter and air conditioning and driving use in the summer, we're always using oil for some reason year round. We're always paying more, whether it's through our home heating bill or gas for our car, or electricity for fans or AC. We never take a break, really.

I do believe that the Oil Peak has been hit, and the gap between supply and demand will continually grow uncomfortably close until one day we'll hit a deficit that we won't be able to recover from. That day is frighteningly close: even the most optimistic estimates puts the date sometime around 2010. After that, one way or another, our way of life will change drastically.

I'm relatively optimistic. I don't think this means the end of the world or civilization, necessarily, but it does mean living a lot harder than we're used to. A lot of people don't relish the idea, but it's well past time we stopped being so excessive and mindless with what we consume. If we had committed to that, say, eight years ago, we'd be a lot better off today. It's a hard pill to swallow to think about how much different the world would be if Gore were President, instead of Bush.

Last Sunday my mother told me that she had Parkinson's Disease, and had been suffering from it for over 30 years. This was devastating for me; so many childhood memories gained a new clarity, and the tangled knot of guilt I had been saving for just such an occasion came in handy. I'm still working through that, but I have a better handle on it than I did a week ago.

I haven't been very talkative here, mostly because I've been trying to focus on doing instead of talking. It hasn't always worked, but as always, there's progress. My mood keeps going up and coming down more than usual, so on any given day I'm happy, almost beatific, and then angry for no apparent reason, then incredibly sad, and then just tired and amused at myself. It's been a long time since I've felt this...closed inward. Depression has a way of doing that; any external stimulus you get just gets absorbed into your own personal world, all experiences become warped and filtered through an internal lens. I feel myself going that way sometimes, but thankfully I have so many people who can pull my head out of my own ass if it gets too far in. :)

Besides work, there's been the writing group, my biweekly Dungeons and Dragons game, weekly Poker Nights, and other things here and there keeping me busy. [livejournal.com profile] mut, [livejournal.com profile] toob and I have been watching season three of Battlestar Galactica religiously (that is, when Mat isn't off gallavanting about Europe), and there's also Oz, Supernatural, Reaper, Lost and other things. The summer movie season is ramping up as well, so we'll be seeing a movie a week in theatres from now until August, roughly. Hopefully, this'll make a good excuse to revive [livejournal.com profile] 2guysreviews.

Oh yes, and somewhere in there was National Poetry Writing Month. It wasn't easy, but I wrote 30 poems in 30 days.

So that's what I've been up to. How's everyone else doing?
jakebe: (Confusion)
Last night I had a dream that I was a member of a ballet troupe and cult of deer-worshippers. We believed that the deer was the guardian of the natural world, ensuring that its forest was ready for the next season, and we tried to cultivate that practice through a spirit of community, discipline and dance. It was a really strange dream. I could spin on one foot (I believe this is what is known as the pirouhette, but I'm not sure) for quite some time, and did so around a room while one of our members was leaving in celebration of her time with us. We were kooks, yes, but I was really happy. I had found something I really believed in and a community of people who believed with me.

I'm not sure what it meant, but it was kind of hard getting up this morning. Our new, quiet alarm was a sudden and disorienting presence, and I had to take a moment to remember where I was. Ryan stirred but did not wake, and I stumbled through the dark and turned it off. He tends to turn over to where I was, as if acknowledging my absence, then turn back to get more sleep. It's adorable. :)

We caught a screening of There Will Be Blood last night; the review should be up sometime this weekend (or next Tuesday). Seeing it made me want to see Gangs of New York again, and perhaps In the Name of the Father the first time. Oddly enough, I'm completely comfortable with keeping My Left Foot in my memory.

What's it called when spokes are revolving so fast it looks like they're moving backwards? Do we have a word for that? If not, we should. I propose retrorote.
jakebe: (Default)
Time: 35 minutes
Distance: 3.11 miles
Speed: 6.0 mph
Calories: 314


After this latest lapse, I'm pretty pleased that I was able to get right on the horse and go for the full run. In the beginning, after around ten minutes or so, I thought I wouldn't be able to do it but I kept on going anyway. I kept saying "One more song, see how you feel then." until the full time had elapsed.

In other news, there's lots of stuff going on. Work is ramping up, as always, in anticipation of the holiday season. I'm still addicted to Virtua Tennis 3, and I'm trying to plow through all the comics I've let myself get behind on. Right now I'm on Captain Carrot and the Final Ark, which is pretty entertaining, but I think Scott Shaw! (besides having a really dumb exclamation point next to his name) has backslid on his art quite a bit. It looks like he's been taking comic lessons from Christopher Hart or something. Ah well, it's really nice to see Bill Morrison back to doing the tongue-in-cheek stuff he does so well. I just wish he would get back to Roswell!

I'm thinking about having a Christmas Film Festival or something like it for the final week of December. Each night would be a different Christmas-themed movie, from Love Actually and Babe to It's A Wonderful Life and White Christmas. Once a schedule was made, folks could choose which nights they'd want to come over to watch films. What say you, local friends? Are you up for those kinds of shenanigans?

In other, other news, I'm feeling boring and tired. Good night!
jakebe: (Default)
For [livejournal.com profile] toob's birthday dinner, we went to Maggiano's, which is apparently an Italian family-style dining restaurant. One or two appetizers are ordered and brought out in quantities big enough for the whole table, then the salads, and then the pastas, and then the entrees...so forth and so on, right down to dessert. It was some of the best Italian food I have ever had in life; the stuffed mushrooms were make-you-weep-for-their-beauty good, and that was some of the tastiest chicken saltimbocca ever. Usually most places I've ordered from think that dousing the chicken in a whole vat of liquid salt for 24 hours is the way to make it, but these guys had the perfect blending of ham, chicken, sauce and cheese. Add creme brulee and tiramisu, and you've got yourself a great dinner. :)

Afterwards, we went to see the new Coen bros. movie, No Country for Old Men. I could totally see how this movie would really piss off a lot of people, but I really liked it. I think being told something about the structure of the movie helped me reset my expectations for it, so I wasn't quite as jarred and peeved when it went down the way it did. That's all I'll say for now, really.

We got to see Futurama: Bender's Big Score today too! Wonderful movie. Any fan of the show should love this one. It was an awesome day all around, really. Tomorrow promises to be cool as well: I shall use my Borders coupon to buy the Twin Peaks Gold Collection DVD box set. All shall be right with the world.

Tomorrow starts another week of work, which I don't mind. :) I'm getting more comfortable with the position all the time, and having people (hopefully) well from various illnesses should certainly make things easier. Of course, it'll help if I'm well-rested for it, so I'd better get my happy ass to bed. Good night.

P.S. - Kwitcherbitching about LJ already. We GET it. Censorship bad.

All right, I know that incorporating the ability for someone else to flag your personal journal as inappropriate for minors is one step closer to Orwellian thought-crime, and yes, it is pretty obnoxious. But out of all of these scads of posts of people decrying the move, I have yet to hear one person come up with a good alternative. 6Apart is caving to pressure from religious groups or lazy parents or whatever, yes, but still...think about it from their perspective. They're just trying not to get sued somewhere down the line, and given how vocal the community is about every change that's being made here (a lot of the complaints are legit, too), I think they're going to be pretty sensitive about making any changes as non-intrusive as possible. They *know* better.

Personally, I would like to believe that we can censor ourselves, and that parents can be responsible in where their children go and what they're exposed to. But unfortunately, not everyone shares that view, so what can be done? Is there a system that makes it easy for 'adult' material to be blocked from minor's eyes that doesn't involve making each and every journal post vulnerable to busybodies and hyper-sensitive people? Let's hear it! If you were running the company, how would *you* handle this situation?

OK, now I'm really going to go to bed.
jakebe: (Default)
Weight: 164.4 lbs.
Time: 35 minutes
Distance: 3.21 miles
Speed: 6.5 mph
Calories: 331

I goosed my speed up to 6.5 mph for five minutes, just to see if I could handle it. It was a good stretch, and I handled it just fine. I could definitely do with drinking more water, though. Almost made three and a quarter miles this time around, though I think I might tone it back for my runs on Wednesday and Friday.

Today I'm grateful for all of the comforts I have. Ryan and I were watching 28 Weeks Later this afternoon and I couldn't help thinking what it would be like for society to...just stop working, for whatever reason. What if we can't find a way around Peak Oil? What if a supervolcano erupts? What if we get hit with a really big earthquake, even?

Part of this comes from The Mist as well, which explores what happens to people when we lose the sense of order we've placed on the world around us. We get scared when the things we've come to expect stop happening, or our lives stop making sense in the way we'd like it to. Disliking the rain comes from an expectation to be dry. Disliking the Apocalypse comes from the expectation for the way things are to continue at least until we die.

Could we ever truly be mentally prepared for a sudden and irreversible change in our way of life? Could we roll with it if there were suddenly no electricity or cars, no job to go to and bitch about? How crazy would we get in our search for some reason, some way to fill the vacuum such a loss would create? It's just something to think about.

In the meantime, I have a fairly hot shower to get to.
jakebe: (Default)
Today, I'm thankful for warm sweaters and thick blankets. The temperatures here in sunny California are finally starting to fall, and we're feeling it. The sad part is the temps aren't even that bad; according to weather.com, the high today was 66 degrees F and the low, 35. Compared to most areas in the country, that's a cakewalk. I feel myself losing he ability to deal with extreme weather even now.

Anyway, even on cold days, or at least pseudo-cold ones, it's great to bundle up in your favorite warm clothing or cuddle under a blanket to read, write or watch TV. If you're feeling really indulgent, you could try all three...though I don't think that'll get you anywhere.

Today we basically watched Enchanted with a few locals and [livejournal.com profile] drleo, who's in from out of town. It was a sweet movie, totally sold by Amy Adams. She's just really delightful, and she's at her best when she's moving through the world loving like she's a force of nature. There's one musical number that's unabashedly awesome (no, it's not the opening) and it's impossible not to smile over it. Ultimately, the movie plays it more straight than the trailers would have you believe, but it's still pretty solid regardless. Also, there's a dragon near the end of the movie, for the people who pay attention to those things. It's a short, climactic boss sequence, but it's done well enough for what it is.

I've been suffering a crisis of confidence, of sorts. While I've been making pretty good strides in some areas, all of the old fears and craziness comes up again, making me wonder how on Earth I manage to keep close friends, or make new ones at all. This too, shall pass, I guess. :)

Tomorrow, more hanging and (hopefully) writing, cleaning, and preparing for work tomorrow. The holiday season starts in full force this week, so I'm going to need to bring my A-game.

Dude

Nov. 23rd, 2007 08:06 pm
jakebe: (Default)
If you're in the mood for an intense psychological/supernatural thriller, I wholeheartedly recommend The Mist. Frank Darabont has more than made up for the schmaltz-fest that is The Majestic. That is all.

Hairspray

Jul. 22nd, 2007 06:43 pm
jakebe: (Default)
Hairspray is one of the best movies I've seen so far this year, and this means something to someone who's watched 87 movies so far this year. Go see it. Really. :)

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