Sunday, November 25, 2012

At this moment / You mean everything

I remember watching a sitcom when I was an adolescent, in which the issue was who has it tougher, adults or teenagers.  (as memories go, I don't remember which sitcom)

Now I have had my share of life to deal with since becoming an adult.  Money problems, family issues as parents and other family members get older.  I would not say adulthood is easy.  Because I guess for most of us, life in general is not easy.  And as many fond memories I have of those teenage years, I would not for a second want to go back to that time.  Yes maybe to do many things differently.  But then I'd probably just redo the same mistakes over by making new ones. 

The teenage years are tougher than being an adult.  That's my opinion.  Something like 85% of people that commit suicide do it by age 25.  It can feel like a survival of the fittest, and we know early enough words like "fair" are not relevant.     

I suppose I was on the fringe.  Never one of the "popular" kids, I also usually made friends fairly easily.  Friends that I still have today, even if 3 hour phone calls about life's biggest issues are a thing of the past.  I would not trade those friendships in for anything.  The ones I made in those awkard years, also seeming in my head as some of the most special.  Maybe because we shared that teenage angst that served Kurt Cobain so well (for a time).  Like friends made in the military; we have that bond of making it through something together.  We made it through a cliquey, classist high school experience in where what your last name was, was as important as anything else.  (And we did not have the proper last names)

And in those times you cling on to certain pop culture together.  I remember us watching "Dazed and Confused" as well as "Reality Bites," 3 or 4 times each in the course of one day.  REM's "Out of Time," U2's "Achtung Baby" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall' seemed to have many of life's answers in them, if we just listened hard enough.  And while in the dark.  Cat Stevens was also good after watching "Harold and Maude" for the 10th time.  The majority of music we would discover as most important to us, being 10 plus years old    We did not do drugs in the strict sense.  But alcohol would make us even more knowing and deep in these moments. 

Especially if Peter Gabriel's "San Jacinto" or "Family Snapshot" were playing.

When you are a teenager everything is drama.  But while that all seems so hilarious now, it does not make that drama less real. 

So we cling to shared experiences.  Mix tapes made that show our love for people that our own words could not express.  I would sign off on those lengthy almost nightly phone conversations with my best female friends with "I love you."  Often they would say it first.  It is just what we said before "goodbye," because well for one thing, we meant it.  We did love one another.  Though not a romantic love, we could still express in that way, what our friendship meant to one another.

Now when I talk to these same friends, I can not quite say "I love you" anymore before I say "goodbye."  All of us being married, it might sound awkward.  Even though those feelings are all still there somewhere, if in slightly less dramatic ways. 

Many writers are drawn to the teenage/high school stories.  Because it is this angst that so often creates artists.  They simply are not always done very well, which seems rather tragic.  Some films we build up better than they are or were.  Watch "St. Elmo's Fire" again.  Did you love it in your youth?  Actually don't watch it again.  Remember what you might have thought of it once.  It has not aged well, and in reality was never very good in the first place.   

Too many of these films seem written by someone who can never truly capture the high school experience.  How is that possible?  They get the cliches, but miss the emotional experience.  So I want to cheer after seeing television shows like "Freaks and Geeks," and "My So Called Life."  Maybe appropriately those shows lasted about 12 episodes each.  The characters forever look the age they are supposed to look.   

Last night I saw a "high school" film.  And I almost did not get to because of those issues adults face.  I got away after a long day at the store I own.  Decided to go to a nice dinner with the wife (cuz we had a coupon).  Then to go see "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."  A film neither myself or the wife knew much about, and purposefully so. 

We got the tickets (cuz we had a coupon)  then went to dinner.  Then in the middle of the meal, adult problems called my cell phone. 

"Matt I accidentally pulled the fire alarm in the store and I can not get it to turn off."  (Huh.  Ok) 

"Call 911 and tell them its a false alarm." 

Then I called my property manager.  Who goes to investigate and calls me back with, "I don't know why its going off or what to do."   (Huh)  

I try to get the check as quickly as possible.  I make numerous calls back to the store, all with the alarm blaring in the background.  Finally I convince the fire department to come investigate and help me.  I beat them there by about 1 minute.  We figure it all out. 

Can we still make this movie?

We race back and get in.  The 20 minutes of previews being our grace to see it from the beginning.  And what followed was a film I would have loved as a teenager.  It was also a film I loved as a 37 year old man.  I had that nice light uplifted feeling upon exiting the theater.  I think the writer/director experienced high school too once upon a time.

"All of my previous selves still survive somewhere inside of me, and my previous adolescent would have loved "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." The movie has received glowing reviews, and some snarky ones that seem to have been written by previous adults."  -Roger Ebert

The story is set up by rising high school freshman Charlie, writing an unknown person.  And almost subconsciously, it feels like Charlie's memories inside his head we are witnessing.  Some things maybe looking better by memory.  Time and clocks are shown more than a couple times.  In the very beginning, Charlie comments on how many days before he will be finished with high school; and put that way it does seem like a life sentence.

Charlie eventually makes a friend in the senior Patrick, by calling him by his name, instead of "nothing" as a shop teacher once called him.  "Nothing," stuck as a moniker.  Charlie then meets Patrick's step-sister, Sam, played by Emma Watson.  I don't know how good an actor Watson is, maybe its even too early to know.  But she is perfectly cast here.  She must play someone easy to fall in love with; (as Charlie falls for her almost immediately).  And she pulls that off rather effortlessly.  Not a bad quality in any actor.

I won't say too much more as to not spoil the story.

You have some of the high school cliches.  But they are often cliches for the many truths in them.  But these are easily forgiven by the strong execution.  The script is based on the book, both being written by the same guy, Stephen Chbosky.  He also directed the film, so obviously he feels close to the material.  Set in a time in which I was also in high school, I liked the subtle but accurate touches of the time period.  (The Mexican influenced multi colored pull-over a character wears, that I had almost the exact same version of)

Charlie makes a mix tape for Sam to show his feelings for her.  The Smiths being the type of sad music that speaks to teenagers of the time period.  Gift giving is shown as accurately important amongst these friends.  (How my friends always stressed over the perfect Christmas gift to give one another.  Now I try my best to get out of this tradition with family)  An older college student takes the tape out during a party and says, "enough of the depressing music." 

Like there was any other type of music to listen too?        

Almost every main character and minor character has pain.  We see something or know of something rather major that they have dealt with or are still working through.  While this is not always caused by parents, its usually caused by adults in their life.  But we don't really see any monster adults. (And Charlie's parents seem ideal)  This is not about the adults.  It is how the adolescents deal with what the adults have done to them.  And try to hold on and not let that time tick away, in between becoming them.  While at the same time getting through this time called adolescence in one piece.

The movie might feel sentimental or sappy in parts.  But it is a sentiment that is real to you when you are that age.  Something maybe some older critics have indeed forgotten.  Because for the sentimental parts, nothing felt false either.  Nothing is exactly wrapped up in a shiny bow.  We don't know what happens of Charlie or Sam or Patrick 15 years from now.  We just have the happy ending of trying to hold on to one moment.  Moments we indeed wish were 'infinite.' 

And maybe with our best memories, they indeed are.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Labels and Apologies

1 Peter 4:16, "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Before a Mormon woman wrote the insanely popular "Twilight" books, the biggest author writing of vampires was a staunch atheist named Anne Rice. And her vampires didn’t exactly sparkle in the sunlight.
In 1998 Anne Rice shocked many people when she declared she was a Christian. At the age of 58, she returned to a faith she had not had since the age of 18.

She began writing not of vampires as much, but of Jesus. In 2004 she stated, she would "write only for the Lord." And she found success with these books, as she had with her previous writing.

Then, on July 29, 2010, she stated she was no longer a Christian.

"Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

In her reasons for quitting, Rice says she disagrees with many of the views of Christians. She cites as one example for her decision, an article written by a Catholic Priest that states that: "Abortion and homosexual acts are unequivocally intrinsic moral evils."

But he also writes, "I urge all of the Catholic faithful to treat homosexuals with love, understanding, and respect. At the same time, never forget that genuine love demands that we seek, above all, the salvation of souls. Homosexual acts lead to the damnation of souls."

I suppose since she cites this man as a reason (among others) then we could debate if the statement is true or biblical. But that would do little. If you agree or disagree you probably wont be swayed by some blogger with 8 (and counting!) followers.

So one question might be, is disagreeing with what some Christians think on one or two topics, enough to leave Christianity altogether?

Maybe to some the topic is too huge, too important to stay in the church. Ok. But members within the church have disagreed on this topic for years, and still often worship together, knowing they agree on so much as to still be brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are all sinners, be it homosexual, heterosexual, or just metro sexual. A stance as a "pro life" or "pro gay" Christian doesn't make you a non sinner. The point of labeling yourself as a Christian is to tell people, I AM a sinner, but it is Jesus Christ that forgives me and loves me anyway.

Rice also mentioned members of the Westboro Baptist Church in her renouncing Christianity. To me this is like citing the KKK as a reason for hating all white people, or removing all crosses everywhere. Surely she would condemn people for saying all Muslims are hate filled terrorists because of a handful of them. Why not give her own (former) religion the same compensation?

But after all, "Christianity" is just a word.  Just a label.  Right?

Can we still follow Christ and not call ourselves Christians; because some of those guys are messed up wackadoos; but hey, not me!?

I remember when I considered stopping my love of the Dallas Cowboys when they acquired the player Terrell Owens. I didn’t like Owens, he had a history with our team, and I did not like the fact he was now on it.  I wanted to align myself with a team in which I could root for and like most of the players.

People said I was not a “true fan” for letting this one issue make me consider switching my allegiance.  Now he is long gone and I root for them same as always. Even though I nearly denounced my fandom for a football team, it was after all, just a football team. I would never think to denounce Jesus Christ because some crazies who claim to be Christians, don’t make us look good. 

Shouldn’t “true” fans get over the fact that not everyone in our group is someone we might hang out with regularly?

Remember, the Church is important to God. Can we honestly withdraw from the church and still be followers of Christ it means so much to Him?

Father Robert Barron says he does not think what Rice is doing is actually possible.  To "follow Christ but leave the church."

"The church is not an organization primarily, it is an organism.  It's a living body."

John 15:5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Barron also mentions how God says "Saul, why do you persecute me?"  Saul is going to persecute the church, not God specifically.  "That's the intimate connection between the head and his mystical body," says Barron.

Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch [acts 11:26] because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ.  It was originally used by the unsaved people of Antioch as a kind of contemptuous nickname used to make fun of the Christians.  It literally means, “belonging to the party of Christ” or an “adherent or follower of Christ.”

That sounds pretty good.  I embrace that title even as I fall far short of deserving it.

Why should we want to distance ourselves or apologize for 'belonging to the party of Christ"?

Jay Bakker, one of the more well known "Hipster Preachers" of today has as his church motto, "Religion Kills."  He famously put as an ad for his church, “'As Christians, we are sorry for being self-righteous judgmental bastards.'"   Revolution NYC: A church for people who have given up on church.”

Christianity has enough detractors.  It feels to me like Bakker and others way of reaching out is saying "its ok to hate us, we kind of hate us too."  I have heard Bakker speak both in person and in talks online.  I never feel lifted up.  While that could be looked at as just a preference of style, I feel it is because you sense his dislike for the "group" he belongs to.  His disgust for fellow Christians who disagree with him on these social issues is palpable, even when he isn't talking about them; though he talks about them a lot. 

Most hipsters enjoy Bob Dylan.  He needs to hear one of Dylan's great lyrics..."Serve God and be Cheerful."

He preaches tolerance and seems completely intolerant of Christians; who have reached an honest and studied opinion that happens to differ from his own. 

Christians are often targets in this world. But a big problem with that is, we often seem to paint the bullseye on our chest and tell others to shoot.

This fad of Christians apologizing for being Christian; is it what Jesus would want from us?  To apologize for being something that literally says we are followers of Christ?

We are so PC and apologetic to not offend anyone, we are ok with denying who we are.

Then by standing for everything we indeed stand for nothing and have an apostate religion.

How easy is it to be fishers of men when asked if we are Christian, we must say..."well kind of, I mean no, but, see..."

How much respect do people have for us when we seem to not even want to admit to following what should be the most proud thing in our lives?

“Yeah I’m a Christian, but I'm not like those. You can like me. I don’t mind how you act or what you do, if that's what it takes.”

"But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become." -Anne Rice

I agree that Christ is most important. But who has ever said that being a Christian means following you or me? You try to be a good example, but if following someone was all it took, no one would need Christ.

I  remember Bono being interviewed once, in where he said he did not feel worthy to be called a Christian. He was "inspired to be worthy of the word." He also said before and after this interview that he was in fact a Christian, he was not denouncing anything. He just felt the word was so big as to hope to be worthy of it. This feels to me to be the antithesis of Rice's conclusion.

Bono feels he is not worthy of Christianity. Rice feels Christianity is not worthy of her.

 Does Rice not see the Christians she has left as worthy of her tolerance, acceptance and love?  Gifts she has given to others.

But if Rice continues to reject us Christians, that’s fine.  We should make sure we do not reject her.  As Father Robert Barron says to Rice, “Come back, come home.  Cuz we need you."

It is one label worth having.

Sorry, that's just how I feel.


Monday, June 4, 2012

...And I Feel Fine

Melancholia is the latest film from Lars von Trier.  The film is broken up into 2 sections, one titled Justine, the Kirsten Dunst character and the other section titled Claire, who is  Justine's older sister, played by Charlotte Gainsborough.

It is a film I decided I had to get through, even though I found it at times boring, poorly written and regarding one minor character, poorly acted. 

I had about given up when I then sat down to watch the second half and be quite captivated. I found the second half to be well written, extremely well acted by everyone; enthralling even. And actually it made me understand and appreciate the first half more.

Treir is so into his actors improvising that I think some of them in the wedding reception scene are better at it than others. While much of the film is so drawn out, in other moments Treir decided "Ok lets show she has a mean mother" and the mother who we have never seen before, stands up and gives a ludicrously mean speech.  Ludicrous at a wedding reception, even by mean mother character standards.  Then we never see her again.  For such a paced film this felt like Trier realizing, "oh crap I forgot the mean mother character!  Quick say something mean right now!"

But the film is called "Melancholia," not "Subtlety."

Justine and Claire are sisters but they have different accents.  Is Justine adopted?  I suppose this doesn't matter.  I wonder if it was intentional to show their contrast.  Actually there are different accents throughout the reception.

We get Kirsten Dunst in a role that she owns.  She is really what got me through the first half of the film.  Her character is getting married and then we slowly realize she suffers from mental illness.  She is sad at what should be her happiest moments and does strangely inappropriate things because the whole spectacle feels a bit too overwhelming.  By the time the wedding is over, so is the marriage and no one seems all that surprised, including even the groom.  I've never felt Dunst was some great actress but I've also always thought she was a bit underrated as well.  I enjoyed her in Marie Antoinette for example, among other things.  Here she is given a great role and she proves she has chops.  She won the Best Actress Award at Cannes in 2011 for this role, and I can't say she didn't deserve it.

I read that originally Penelope Cruz was cast in this role but had to back out due to a scheduling conflict.  I think this is fortunate.  While Cruz is a decent enough actress I don't think we would have gotten with her what we got out of Dunst.  The slow progression of happy to sad before our eyes. 

I felt with Melancholia, a similar way I felt about Orson Welles', The Trial.  Captivating and nearly unwatchable would be words to describe both of these films.  Where Melancholia got me was the Claire character realizing that a larger planet was going to crash into Earth and her reaction as well as how Justine reacts.  Oh, did I mention that?  That adds some tension to everything and explains a bit, the odd behavior of people in the first half of the film, even if experts are telling the public the planet will skirt by, but miss.

Treir, who has suffered from depression, said he got the idea for the film when at one therapy session he was told depressed people handle stressful situations better than other people.
How would we react if we knew a planet was moments away from crashing into ours and destroying us all?  I mean besides the obvious  AUUUUUGGGGGHHHH!!!!!  Claire suggests a glass of wine and some music.  Justine is not overly impressed.

But this is not a big budget Hollywood version of a disaster film.  It is drama told in a fairly unique way.  Like the drama of a quiet independent film, and well the world is gonna end in a minute too.  There is that.

I have seen people running and screaming in the streets enough.  I haven't seen 3 people all alone trying to face this, sitting on a golf course.

Claire is caregiver to her sister Justine; who is so depressed by the second half of the film, as to almost be catatonic. 

By the end of the film the roles are reversing themselves.  Justine is the calm sister who knows how to calm her young nephew and to a smaller extent Claire down as well.  Maybe because she knows what the end of the world feels like.  She, unlike them, experiences it almost every day.

I don't think I can yet call myself a Trier fan.  But after seeing 3 of his films now, if someone asks if I like or dislike him as a director, I can answer honestly; "yes."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Of perfection and ambiguity

What is your favorite film?  Is it perfect?

Is it considered a masterpiece?

How flawed can a film be and still be great?               

How great can a film be with flaws?

The Tree of Life won a good amount of awards this past season.  Yet even those who admire it point out some flaws. But how big can those flaws be with a picture that stays in one’s mind like this? And if these are scenes we still want to discuss long after seeing it, how flawed were those scenes actually? Maybe they were just worth discussing.

There is a scene with a dinasaur in the film. Yes a dinasaur. And critics discuss the scene and argue over what it meant. Whats not to love about that! Who is right is irrelevant. Can anyone be right really anyway, or more right than someone else? Unless the director told us and then where is the fun in that. Even they could be wrong.

What film to you is perfect? What film are you like "how can anyone criticize this film!” I think hardly any such films exist.

There becomes a moment when we love a film and, like family and friends, even forgive some disapointments along the journey.

And like our friends and family, we must defend them flaws and all. Because no they aren’t perfect but man they sure are great. Or maybe we just get them like others don't. Those stupid others.

A film is not about what its about but how it's about it.

Every experience is different to every person. So what its about is almost just trivia.

There are only about 12 stories retold over and over anyway. So how we are shown one of those stories is the key.

Cache is a 2005 French film. It is a film that requires you to look at the screen nearly every moment. The ending just seems like a throw away scene. Like why is this even being shown? But keep looking. You are rewarded for your diligence. And that is great fun, even though nothing is tied up neatly. There is much ambiguity even still. Much to talk about on the ride home.

The most satisfied I get is when the screen goes to black and I want to sit there and think about what I just saw. Ive said it before but No Country For Old Men, left me sitting there and thinking. And I loved it for that. I wanted to hug the screen.  After seeing The Tree of Life I got caught in a torrential downpour in the parking lot and had a good 20 minutes to just sit and think about the film.  And that was one of the most enjoyable parts of the film experience.   

Interestingly enough, the one criticism I seemed to ever hear about No Country For Old Men (though it was far more often a praise) was that it was “too perfect of a film.”

There is not a shot out of place said multiple critics.  And yet a few felt this made it somehow less emotionally attached to them. Because it was “perfect.”

So which do we prefer? And is there ever truly such a thing as perfect in art. Critics have said Citizen Kane is also perfect. But what about the fact that the entire premise of the film, is based on what Kane’s last words meant; which, were heard by no one.

If a film grabs you enough, these quibbles become even less than quibbles.

Hitchcock would say that the flaws in a film are irrelevant as long as the viewer doesnt think about them until the ride home.

Ive convinced myself that the nurse did in fact hear Kane. Who are we to say she didn’t? She could have heard from outside the door right? She just had really good hearing, or maybe she had one of those cool listening devices you see advertised on late night tv. The one where you hear your new neighbors whispering compliments about you to each other

Everyone overlooks these quibbles if the grand total is large enough. Audrey Hepburn is so great and so beautiful and so captivating and to me THE quintessential movie star; and that Moon River song so iconic, we can tend to forget the extremely racist Mickey Rooney character in that same film.

Leave the continuity geeks and other such Trainspotters to have their fun feeling they spotted a flaw in something they are watching over and over to point out. Great is great. And great doesn’t have to be perfect. If every film was, even the masterpieces, what would be left to talk about?

“People complain The White Album was too long? That if it had not been a double album it would have been even better. Stop your complaining. It’s the Beatles; it’s the bloody White Album, Its brilliant."
-Paul McCartney

Everyone experienes a film differnently. Even we do with each viewing of the same film.

I would often watch a film with someone only to get giddy wih excitement at a scene that they are about to experience look over at them and see a feeling of total disinterest or disconnect.

Thinking on films I like, it is often the smaller films that seem closer to perfect. The ones that go all out on production and effects are us ually the ones more likely to fail. Of course not in the sense of failing at the box office. But in failing to resonate years later.

Once had many scenes where I was in love. But one was also one I wasn't sure about. It was when "girl" replies to "boy" when asked the question "do you love him?" She responds in her native language, that he doesnt know and both his character and you wonder what she said. But if you dare to transalate later you find out what she said.

How beautiful. And even more so by not saying it in English or having it in subtitles. We can find out in this day and age if we want.  And on some level we know. But what a smart moment that almost no mainstream romantic film would trust to try.

I come back to numerous scenes that arent spelled out to us that make the experience richer for being that way.

Sideways came out in 1999. A simple low budget film. And I remember it above all else for one scene.

A man describing wine to a woman he is crazy about, and not having any idea he is describing himself. But she does. She never says she does, but you know it.  That's good film making.

Or Say Anything, in 1986. So much to love about that film. But its just another 80s teen film right? If you think that you should watch it again.

I used to have Llyod Dobler's speech written out and posted above my desk. It resonated.

And then again we have The Tree of Life. In its way, one of the most ambitious films since 2001.  Will I still think about it years from now as I have the others previously mentioned? I cant say for sure. I think so. It's completely different. It is one of those BIG films, but that unabashedly says "Im great, try to ignore it." Its not perfect. There is too much at stake for it to be. And I respect it as much as those other perfect little films. Because sometimes greatness happens and sometimes things arent as immediatley obvious.

Some attempts are so outrageous, they must at least be admired.

But the fun part is you can sit while the credits roll and think about it. Or get caught in a gigantic rain storm and think about it some more.

"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it." 
 -Red      The Shawshank Redemption

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Ten Greatest Films Of All Time

Every ten years Sight & Sound Magazine releases their list of the Greatest Films Of All Time.  Since 1962, Citizen Kane has won this distinction.  In 2002 it only won narrowly, by 4 votes over Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

This list is the most prestigious of these such lists, in part because the magazine is so respected, in part because it is only every 10 years, and in part because distinguished directors and critics vote, not someone who just likes praising ever film ever made, like Larry King.

Of course all lists are kind of ridiculous.  But as far as lists go, Sight & Sounds Greatest Films Of All Time List would be #1 on my list of All Time Greatest Lists. 

I recently read a Roger Ebert article on this poll.  He has voted every time since 1972, and his 10 films have changed a bit over the years.  Notorious is no longer on his list, but he says it is still one of the 10 best films of all time.  There are probably at least 50, 10 best films of all time.  How do you truly choose?  The Tree of Life is on his ballot this year and yet it was not even his #1 film of 2011.  So opinions can change, and quickly.  So, as I pretend I'm a film critic here would be my ballot.  Quick, before it changes.

There is at least one choice people might find ridiculous, but hey it's my list.  Send me your own and your own reasons.

The Third Man   (Reed)  So far superior to anything else in Reed’s canon, some people still strongly believe it was really directed by Welles.  Welles would dispute this, but maybe having the famed director act in his film inspired Reed to do his best.  Welles also wrote the “Cuckoo Clock” speech.  Hey, I think that Welles guy had some talent!

Pulp Fiction   (Tarantino)  I actually think Tarantino is an underrated director, as strange as that might sound.  People seem to resent how he incorporates his favorite films into his own, as if people are never allowed to admit their influences.  But he is not borrowing anymore than say Scorsese (and probably less).  And his revenge western, his martial arts pic, his world war II buddy shoot em’ up, are always better than anyone else’s you have seen.  This is still his best work, though now barely.  A film that influenced countless others; some good, many weak; but that's not his fault.

The Thin Red Line  (Malick)  Still my favorite Malick film, and I believe his best.  Though The Tree of Life is up there as well.  And Days of Heaven is also a masterpiece worthy of this list.

No Country For Old Men  (Coens)  Its close between this and Fargo, but I have to give the nod to NCFOM.  It has so many layers to it.  And a perfect ending.

Citizen Kane  (Welles)  Is this the one I would choose to rewatch above the rest?  No.  I’ve seen it enough.  But my film history study won’t let me not acknowledge what Welles accomplished.  It influenced many films and filmmakers after, and so it deserves the reputation it has.  Actors didnt speak over each other before this film.  You never saw the entire room, floor to ceiling in a set before this film.  You never saw deep focus before this film.  You never had multiple narrators before.  Hard for a film to reinvent the wheel, but Welles and his crew did.

Tokyo Story  (Ozu)

Rashomon  (Kurosawa)  Often considered the greatest film ever to have a poor ending.  I prefer to think of how the director wanted the ending to be made.  With a dark rainy background.  But the weather would not accomodate and he did not have time or money to keep shooting.  Imagine it IS raining again as they walk off.  The rest of the film is great and groundbreaking. 

Sunrise  (Murnau)  Why does this make my list?  Because I have not seen it in 12 years and I still only have this great impression in my mind.  Maybe if I saw it again that would be ruined.

Harold and Maude  (Ashby)  Two of the most memorable characters on film.  And as strong a Ruth Gordan is, Bud Cort's performance is equal.  Dark humor and seriousness and love never blended so well.  Below is Harold filling out a questionaire for a dating service.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (Hughes)  It had humor and heart.  Encompasses all that was best about those John Hughes era films.

Next time you watch it, look at it from Cameron's mentally ill mind.  Imagine that Ferris is just all in his head.  The opposite of who he is, Ferris is the personality he wants to have.

Honorable Mention:   Cache, The Silence of the Lambs, Night of The Hunter, The Wild Bunch, Blazing Saddles, Psycho, Strangers On A Train, Nosferatu (Herzog), Amadeus,  Dr. Strangelove,
Say Anything, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Double Indemnity, Aguirre, The Wrath of God.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oscar Predictions 2012

I share a character trait with my brother; we both like writing things people don't read. So in that tradition we decided to team up and each write out our Oscar Predictions without the other one knowing what they would be. So here are our predictions, which are surprisingly close, meaning bet the complete opposite way.

Best Picture:

Matthew's Prediction: "The Artist"

Nobody seems to know why "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" was nominated. When we look back on the films with best picture nods this year and say "wait how was such and such not even nominated; I have a feeling that film will be "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" for many people.

"The Artist" is something Academy voters will eat up. It is about the early history of film itself, and it takes a risk (being mostly silent and all) that pays off. I think in this category and others they will reward the risk, as well as the pat on the back to themselves.

Who should win: "The Tree of Life"

"...the mind races backward; past becomes present, present becomes past. This is what it means to be conscious, to be alive. This is what it means to be aware of one's own mortality. These are the sensations that movies should provoke. This is the sort of reflection that movies should inspire. This is the achievement of "Tree of Life." It is an original, beautiful, unique movie by a defiantly individual director." Matt Zoller Seitz & Serena Bramble (1)

Jonathan's Prediction: "The Artist"

Unfortunately at this point in time, I have only seen two of the Best Picture noms, and that was "Moneyball" & "Midnight in Paris." MB was a good movie, but I don't see it as 'best picture' quality, so it is out in my mind. "Midnight in Paris" was decent, and a cool concept of a movie, but I had a few issues with it and thought it had some weak spots.

Based on what I know about it as a movie, and based on what I know about its competition, I am choosing "The Artist" as the winner of this award.

Actor in a Leading Role

Matthew's Prediction: Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"

This is actually a pretty wide open race. Pitt has won awards for the whole of his year which included "The Tree of Life." Clooney might still offically be the front runner, but I think there will be at least a minor upset if he is still considered the favorite by the show. I think people wanna hear Dujardin give a speech.

Who should win: Gary Oldman There is no actor better than Gary Oldman. His George Smiley says almost as little as Dujardin. I think some people look at Dujardin (who is great) as acting while maybe Oldman as not. Thats of course a mistake. The fact that this is Oldman's very first Oscar nomination also shows that these things at the end of the day, don't always accuretly reflect the best.

"Projecting a face so passive it could almost be labeled a mask, Oldman allows a glimpse into Smiley’s inner life through his aqueous eyes, which betray volatility more in line with the rest of the actor’s notable roles." Tony Dayoub

Jonathan's Prediction: George Clooney in "The Descendents"

Best Actor is a bit of a crap shoot. There is a lot of good talent in this category. I really like Jean Dujardin for this award. Plus, I love saying his name. Du-Jar-din! Brad Pitt was good in "Moneyball," but I'm not convinced he was "Best Actor" good. Anywho...I think the smart money is on Clooney. Clooney is a great actor, but let's be honest, he is probably going to get a plethora of votes just based on his name.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Matthew's Prediction: Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
Surprised Albert Brooks did not get nominated for "Drive." Plummer will win for his career as well as a great performance. Maybe they will show Julie Andrews, his Sound Of Music co-star, in the crowd.

Jonathan's Prediction: Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
While Best Supporting Actress was the most up in the air, Best Supporting Actor is pretty open and shut in my opinion. Christopher Plummer takes home the Oscar. If anyone were to pull out an upset it would be Max Von Sydow (also a great name) with his role in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Regardless, I think Plummer will take home the win.

Actress in a Leading Role

Matthew's Prediction: Viola Davis in "The Help"

Meryl Streep seemed a shoe-in except for the fact nobody really liked the rest of the film outside of her performance. Will she win simply because she is due to again? If acting is only mimicry, then Rich Little is due his lifetime achievement award. 
Michelle Williams has a good chance but I think it will go to Viola Davis. I think there might be just enough of a backlash about Streep being overdue and deserving to win for that alone. She is nominated almost every year. She will get another soon enough.

If Davis wins, look for Hollywood to pat themselves on the back for being so color blind.  The same Hollywood that rejected Eddie Murphy's original concept of an all black cast for "Tower Heist" and refused to finance the George Lucas produced "Red Tails" because it did have a nearly all black cast.
Jonathan's Prediction: Viola Davis in "The Help"

If I were betting money, I would probably put it on Streep to take Best Actress. The woman is an award winning machine and the Susan Lucci of the Oscars, having been nominated more than anyone else, but only winning a couple of times. The thing is, I don't like Meryl Streep. That's right, I said it. Also, I want Viola Davis to win one over her, therefore, I am going with the next best choice, Viola Davis, in "The Help." This should be a mild upset, but not an overly shocking one.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Matthew's Prediction: Octavia Soencer in "The Help"

These are the categories where there is usually an upset. I can see almost any of them winning, but I will stick with Spencer.

Jonathan's Prediction: Octavia Spencer in "The Help"

I could see this award going a number of different ways. It is the most up in the air award category in my opinion.  I would love to see Melissa McCarthy win it, but I doubt she will, nor am I sure she should.  I am going to go out on a limb and say that Octavia Spencer is going to get the win on this one.  If my picks for Actress & Supporting Actress do come true, it will be Oscar history.  Never have two black women won both awards in the same year.  In fact, only one black woman has ever won Best Actress (Halle Berry in Monster's Ball) and only four have ever won Supporting Actress,  but thankfully, times, they are a changing, and I think these two ladies will indeed make history by taking home the trophies.


Matthew's Prediction: Guillaume Schiffman for "The Artist"

Part of me thinks "Hugo" will win because its better 3D than most films in a format that is already faltering a bit (once again).  "The Tree of Life" has its best chance in this category but I think people will be blinded by the black and white, "The Artist."

Jonathan's Prediction: Robert Richardson for "HUGO"

From what I have seen of all these movies, I would have to say that "Hugo" is most likely to win this award. As long as it goes to a film that actually practices good Cinematography and not special effects, I am happy. I have not seen Hugo yet, but I have seen multiple trailers and it looks spectacular.


Matthew's Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist"

I think "The Artist" will win Best Picture, and usually, but not always Best Picture gets Best Director.

Jonathan's Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist"

I think Best Picture and Best Director almost go hand-in-hand. Again, my smart money is on Hazanavicius for The Artist, although I would be happy if Scorsese won. I could see it, but if I had to choose a winner, I would go with Haz.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Matthew's Prediction: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash for "The Descendants"

Jonathan's Prediction: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash for "The Descendants"

I think "The Descendants" will win. I think "Moneyball" would also be a good choice, and TTSS should possibly take the award over Clooney's movie, but I am putting my money on "The Descendants."

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Matthew's Prediction: Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris"

This seems to be Woody Allen's most well received film in some time. I think they want to gove him the award even though he won't likely show up. One way to keep ratings high though: Have him win and let Mia Farrow except for him. Then watch the ever soft spoken Mia smash the Oscar to pieces.

Jonathan's Prediction: Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris"

"Midnight in Paris" is my pick based on its uniqueness. This movie was not what I was expecting, but that is not to say that is a bad thing. Woody Allen's unusual Romantic Sci-Fi Comedy is the very definition of "original", thus they win the award.

Best Animated Feature
Matthew's Prediction: "Rango"

The only real reason I think this will win is because it was kind of the anti-children's animated film. It was in many ways not for children, but of course parents dragged their kids to see it simply because it was animated. I think The Academy might enjoy that.

Jonathan's Prediction: "Rango"

I have not seen these animated pictures.I dunno. For whatever reason, when I look into my crystal ball on this one, I see Rango winning. People love Johnny Depp, so yeah...Rango.


(1) Pressplay Should Win Best Picture, The Tree of Life

(2) February 16, 2012 the many faces of george smiley

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Not The Last Out

If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.   John 15:19

Gary Carter was determined not to be the last out.  But according to the people controlling the videoboard, he already was.

With two outs in the bottom of the 10th in game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Carter was all that stood between the Red Sox defeating the Mets and being World Champions for the first time since 1918.

As Carter walked to the plate, this message could be seen on the videoboard: 
"Congratulations, 1986 World Champions, Boston Red Sox."

"I was our last hope," he said, "and as I took my place and looked out at Schiraldi, all sounds shrank back, and I felt a presence in me, or perhaps besides me, a calming certainty that I wasn't alone. I was not alone, and I was not, so help me, going to make the last out of the World Series. I felt certain of that."

Carter is not the lasting imagine of that game; but without him that image would have never happened.  He did not make that last out.  He started an incredible rally (he had started one in the 8th inning as well) that culminated in the Mets winning the World Series in Game 7.

Carter was a Mets as well as Expos hero.  Beloved by two teams.  He was also disliked my teammates on both teams, for reasons that might not seem fair.  He had the courage to be completely different.  Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra and other former teammates are all now infamous for their bad behavior during that time.  Carter was ridiculed and chastised for being decent and moral.     

Strawberry and others would ostracize him for not sleeping with groupies and for not taking drugs.  He once even stated he would enjoy having his wife come along on some away games.  This was not the wrong thing to say because teammates needed this time to bond.  It was wrong in their eyes because this was the time for the team to engage in behavior their wives would not want to see.

"He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way," Warren Cromartie, an Expos outfielder, once told me. "Gary was just ... different.

"There was a lack of respect for Gary Carter. He was clearly an overwhelming minority -- or I should say an underwhelming minority."  (1)

"He was too religious, too good, too square -- Tim Tebow with more talent and without social media." said writer Tom Verducci.

"His whole life is baseball and the Lord, and of course his family," said Reardon, Carter's Montreal Expos teammate. (2)

That enthusiasm for one's faith and family just never sat well with much of his team.  They never understood his love for life, especially when not taking part in these extra curricular activities.

"My enthusiasm for my family -- and for baseball, and other things, too -- strikes some people as a bit too much. My happiness crowds people a little." (3)

How could a man enjoy his job AND his family?  This behavior made people suspicious.  Writer Jim Murray said of him, "Gary Carter is the type of guy who, if he saved a child from drowning, the mother would look at him and say, 'Where's his hat?'" (4)

I respect as I wrote before, someone like Tom Brady for caring so much about something that as children we feel is everything to us.  Then we grow up and find out it doesn't mean near the same to the actual players as it does us fans. 

Carter had that same drive and appreciation for what he was a part of.  Mike Schmidt said seeing Gary Carter get elected into the Hall of Fame and what it meant to him, made Schmidt appreciate his own Hall of Fame election all the more. 

But Carter also seemed to have a peace and joy about him as well.

That child like enthusiasm earned him the nickname "Kid" even though the older players didn't usually mean it as a compliment.  As in "kid calm down, stop running so hard its just a practice."

So what was it that made Carter so joyful and so different?  I think a key to that can be found in his opening statement when named Manager of Palm Beach Atlantic University.  Carter's stated mission on the day he was hired:  "My primary goal is to help these young athletes become better Christians and prepare them for life, not just baseball."

Carter was different.  And often unappreciated for it by immature teammates trying to hide their own insecurities. 

Biographer of the 1986 Mets, Jeff Pearlman, wrote, "They saw an uncompromised figure and didn't much care for the vision of it."   (5)

Gary Carter died just a few days ago of Brain Cancer.  People that get caught up in whats "fair" would say this was not the fair ending.  That it is not right he should go ahead of former teammates that abused their bodies and squandered their gifts.

But Carter, unlike many of those former teammates, was ready for this.  As much as we can be.  Maybe looking back now his actions serve as a call to prepare themselves.  Ourselves.

Being different is exactly what we are called to do. 

If you watch one clip of Carter playing, I would make it the one below.  The very last at bat of his career.  At the plate trying to help his team gain the lead in a meaningless game.  But the "Kid" didn't have that switch.  Nothing is meaningless if it gives joy to those watching.  And Gary Carter had the joy of a Little Leaguer.  His whole career and beyond.  Quite a nice way to be different.   

(1)  Jeff Pearlman:  "News of Gary Carter's Inoperable Brain Cancer Hits Especially Hard" January 23, 2012

(2)  Tom Verducci   "Gary Carter: The Light of The Mets"  February 16, 2012

(3)  A Dream Season, by John Hough Jr.,

(4)  Tom Verducci "Gary Carter: The Light of The Mets" February 16, 2012

(5)  The Bad Guys Won  by Jeff Pearlman

Friday, February 10, 2012

Feelings...Nothing More Than Feelings

George Costanza:  (after finally seeing Titanic)
"So that old woman...she was just a liar!?"

Jerry Seinfeld:  "And a  bit of a tramp if you ask me."

Great films need staying power.  A film that can have an affect on you in the theater, might have you feeling totally different later.  Is this a fair judment of the picture, since you had an emotional response to a moment or scene,  previously?

I give you Titanic.  And this will be a bit of a confession.  Like revealing a skelton in my closet but here goes.  

I liked it.  Kind of.

Right up until I didn't.

Is this fair?

You dont get much more emotional ammunition in making a film as you do than when the subject is the most famous shipwreck in history, with many lives lost.

I remember my experience as follows:

Titanic was all set up to be a bomb.  It was the most expensive film ever made and it had to be great (well a huge hit) to even break even.

I was half expecting it to be bad.  And as it got going I thought, "man the critics are gonna crucify this picture."  The dialogue was often hokey and sappy.  The Billy Zane character was ridiculous.

But as I was thinking "this is no great film" I actually remember hoping critics would be semi kind.  Because I didnt find it boring.

Then there was the ending.  When you imagine people freezing to death after surviving the initial sinking and someone in a lifeboat keeps asking if anyone is alive only to hear nothing in return, well thats kind of a big emotional moment.  You would be an unfeeling jerk to not feel anything, right?  And I did feel what James Cameron wanted me to feel.  I felt sad. 

And when the film was over I thought, "hey that wasnt so bad, maybe it can break even."

Well of course enough people saw this film and thought the same way that it became the biggest box office champ of all time.  (Until Avatar)

So then you are left with, "wait, it wasnt THAT good!"  Not by a long shot.  But hey its a popcorn film really at its soul.  You can like popcorn movies and realize they arent great art.  But then it won Oscar after Oscar, including best picture.  Critics I respect gave it 4 stars and with all those awards I guess you'd have to admit people considered it a masterpiece.  It tied Ben Hur for the most ever Oscar wins.  Really.

Then became the backlash where you can't find many people (at least male) that admit to ever liking the film at all.  My answer to the question is usually "I liked it while sitting in the theater."

Do I like it now?  Well, as a better than expected popcorn film, yeah, kind of. As a masterpiece of cinema, heck no.

But wait, you had an emotional response!?

And this is where things get interesting.  

How much does that matter? Least in the long term.

A job of a film is to manipulate your emotions.  Cameron did well at least in that scene previously mentioned.  But I often get a song stuck in my head and thats also a score for the musicians.  That doesn't put "Mickey" in the same category as "Eleanor Rigby."

Oh Mickey you're so fine/ you're so fine you blow my mind/ Hey Mickey!

But the thing is, I'd be more than happy to never hear that song again.  I don't want it in my head!

Critic Jim Emerson gave Dead Poet's Society a scathing review.  He refers to it as one of his least favorite films ever. 

He also admits to crying during the last scene.

"Even as my eyeball oozed, I was thinking about what a hollow, dishonest picture this was before me. The movie did not give me the option, the freedom, of actually feeling anything. It squeezed that liquid out of me as if it were a juicer and I were some form of citrus.

If I'd been one of Pavlov's dogs, I would have just salivated at the sound of the bell. But when a movie reduces perfectly decent emotions to stupid pet tricks like this, I also find myself feeling something deeper. Something like anger, resentment."  (1)

But the films that keep you wanting to see them again, those are the true epic films.

And yes even a so called "popcorn movie" can be a masterpiece of sorts.  Because what is it the film was trying to do?  And do you keep going back to it even years later with similar joy?

I give you the 1986 "masterpiece,"  Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Before the recent ad was unvieled for this year's Super Bowl, we got this teaser.

Now just this slight bit of nostalgia made me cheer. It is a film of its time that still holds up years later.

Does Titanic hold up as well? In my opinion, not nearly.

Its almost as if awards for one year should be awarded 5 years later. When people have gone over the films again and truly studied them. Of course this would never happen and is a bit flawed as well, but how often would awards change if we had a do over?

The point is, just how did a film manipulate you?  In an honest, original way that you want to see again, or an obvious, trite way that is like shooting emotional fish in a barrel?  Do you look back and quickly realize you have seen that scene before.

There is a reason so many documentaries about The Holocaust win Best Documentary.  It is one of the saddest parts of our world's history.

But I can't think of any of those titles off hand.  Now think of the documentary, Crumb.  If you have ever seen it, you probably will never get it out of your mind.

So I leave you with two examples. One is the ending of Patch Adams. The other is the opening of The Apostle. Which scene works best? The most emotionally  honest.  Which scene would you want to view again, years later?

1:  Emerson was the inspiration for this entry.  "When Bad Movies Happen To Good People."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Worth a Thousand Words

I have never understood the hatred for Tom Brady.  I hear the arguments. 

None of which hold much weight or water when at all looked at objectively, to me.

In one of my favorite responses of all time, when asked by a reporter why people hated him, he said (with a sarcastic smile) "Because I'm good looking, I'm successful and I have a hot wife."

Hilarious and also much of the reason.

To me Tom Brady is THE interesting figure in football.  And the one I root for more than any other, save maybe Tim Tebow.

Tebow is famous for his "pose" of praying during a game.  Something some people never seemed to get and made into a sort of joke.

This picture from the last Super Bowl is also getting attention.  It is Brady just after a heart breaking moment.  And again, people don't get it.  They seem to revel in it.  They even are now calling this pose Bradying as opposed to Tebowing to have some more fun with their most hated QB in defeat.

It is a picture that makes me like the guy even more.

The man cares.  A LOT.  How would you not want that in an athlete?  Think about it.  Brady has multiple MVP awards, multiple Super Bowl MVPS, records, (he set one even this last game)

Only 4 quarterbacks have 3 super bowl titles or more.  He is one.  He has made it to 5 Super Bowls, tied for the most ever.  But its a case of what have you done for me lately.  Well lately he just took a not very strong team all the way to the Super bowl and came within a whisker of beating a superior team. 

Not a bad year really.

I don't care their regular season records. I have eyes. They won games with mirrors all year long.  And that biggest magician was their quarterback.

If he had never gotten to the game, his reputation would be more intact in many peoples eyes.  This is media stupidity at its highest level.

Brady makes a lot of money.  He has accomplished about all there is to accomplish in his profession.  And he still wants more.  His drive and desire to win is more than most people can understand.  And that's why this picture of a man defeated to me shows strong character.  Character I would want on my team.

The thing is, there are only a few like him now.  Used to be, many athletes seemed this driven.  Not true and definitely not anymore.  How did many of the losing Patriots react after losing?  Some went out and partied after.  I'm not saying that's a wrong reaction, but often after a huge game look closely to the players.  They are smiling and laughing and  cutting up with the players that just defeated them.  Right on the field.  Fact is, they make a ton of money playing a game, and so what if they lost a huge game.  No big deal.

But Brady doesn't have that switch.  His new teammate, Chad Ochocincho said he was "worried" about Brady when the playoffs started because he takes it all so seriously.  Taking ones job seriously?  Hmm.

The true greats that possess this drive are almost OCD with their goals.  Maybe they are exactly OCD.

I will never forget Larry Bird, as a head coach, being interviewed in the hallway immediately after his Pacers lost the Championship to the Bulls.  They got so close.  Closer to winning than anyone thought possible.  Bird was Coach of the Year that year.  He only increased his legend.  A man that had accomplished almost everything in his sport.  And the interviewer said "how long will it take to get over this loss?"  Bird's answer; "Never.  I will never be over this."  You could tell he meant it.

How do we not respect the people that give us so much joy, that we wish we could do their job, and yet they leave nothing on the field.  They can't be criticized for not giving it their all.  They give you as a fan everything they have.  Brady does that time and again, to the point it seems like you want him to stop.

Some athletes like Brady will tell you they remember the defeats more so than the victories.  The footage of Brady in disbelief at what he had just accomplished after his first Super Bowl win, is incredibly touching to see.  It can only be a very powerful drug to desire that feeling again.  To put your body through surgery and rehab just for the chance.   

I will never forget another interview I saw once.  A few years back, Tom Brady had just won his 3rd Super Bowl and was on top of the world.  And he told the interviewer there was something missing in his life, he just wasn't sure what it was. 

My mouth probably hit the floor.

This is some kind of Greek Warrior character worthy of great literature.  He fascinates me.  I hope he finds or has now found what was missing.  There is only one player I'd want to build my team around in the NFL.  And he just lost the Super Bowl.  And to me his legend grew larger.