Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 November 2008

Lies We Tell One Another

I am feeling sentimental today (and procrastinating about my paper on sentimental comedy), and I am trying to work some thoughts out in my head...

Something odd about relationships is, perhaps, that we don't always know why they end. I broke up with someone recently and I had reasons for doing so. I told him some of those reasons, but I had more reasons in my head than the ones I shared with him. I am not sure why I held those reasons back, but I did. Maybe I thought he couldn't handle those reasons. Maybe I thought I was being nice, polite, in keeping those reasons to myself.

Or maybe I actually don't know all of the reasons that he and I cannot work out. I was sure that I did not want it to work out and that's all I can say that I knew for sure.

I don't know about things like this. And I wonder, when I am in a relationship that ends, if I have ever really gotten the truth out of the other guy. Which leads to more questions:

Is the truth really important? I mean, why do I need to know why this person does not want me anymore? or Why does he need to know why I do not want him anymore? And...

Is the truth even possible? I don't even always know why I don't want someone anymore. Sometimes I just cannot explain it. It is just that I don't want him anymore and that is that. There must be a thousand reasons for and against a relationship continuing. Sometimes we make up our minds about what we want and we don't even know why...

But it isn't the why that matters, see. It is that our minds are made up. The why, sometimes, doesn't matter at all.

29 November 2008

Seen Around Talla-classy #4

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving as usual here in Talla-classy. Many of the people in the theatre department are really good cooks, and I really like spending the entire day drinking wine and eating food. I made my Baked Macaroni & Cheese (the one with jalapeños in it, yum) and Cranberry Relish. Other people brought twice-baked potatoes, yams, corn pudding, stromboli, green beans, stuffing. I can't remember what else, but we deep-fried a twenty-one-pound turkey and it came out delicious. And there was lots of cheese and crackers to start off the day. And then of course there was lots of dessert. I didn't eat any of that, really. I never really want dessert on Thanksgiving. I only really want carbohydrates.

I was quite full by about 8:00p, so I decided to take a little walk around the neighborhood, where I stumbled upon this:

Now, I know the picture is kinda dark. It was evening, and the flash was having issues (for some reason it didn't want to pick up the huge trailer; it was more interested in the security signs in front of the house.) But this is someone's driveway.

I don't know about you guys, but I can think of no reason to have a trailer in one's driveway that advertises for Thomas' English Muffins. What is the story here? Any ideas?

I helped some friends move on Friday morning (I was not hung-over at all, amazingly), and on the way to their new digs, I caught the following with my camera phone:

I cannot tell you how much I love this picture. I only noticed this sign because I thought to myself: fifty cents for an ice cream sandwich! That is a fantastic price for such a delicious little item! And then I thought: oh, wow, that must be a pretty old sign if they are that cheap. And then I looked again: SANDWICHS. Right. Or maybe the person selling them is just an idiot.

One more. After work the other day, I spent most of the ride home behind a guy with the following bumper sticker:

I love geese, too. I wonder if we are having one for Christmas dinner...

28 November 2008

Australian Epic Is Derivative, Boring, and Goes on Forever

Baz Luhrmann, who hasn't made a full-length feature since 2001's manic Moulin Rouge! dropped a bomb this weekend. That bomb is called Australia. (I am not sure why this one doesn't have an exclamation point at the end.)

Australia is a film about a young Australian boy in the 1930s and the two people who come to see themselves as his parents. The young boy (whose name is Nullah) narrates the film and tells us that what is really important in life is storytelling. He will, therefore, tell us a story.

The story he tells us is one you've heard before. Uptight British lady comes to the Australian desert and lets her hair down, learning a lot about herself and the land in the process. She also falls in love with the rowdy, unkempt-but-incredibly-sexy ranch-hand who drives her cattle. Sound familiar? It isn't just that the general plot of Australia is completely predictable. Any audience member with half a brain can see every single plot point a mile away: to wit the sexy ranch-hand (Hugh Jackman) is immediately repulsed by the snobby British lady (Nicole Kidman); but then she impresses him with her occasional ability to stop her snobbery; she proves herself the equal of a man; she is allowed in to drink at the men-only bar (that's a plot point in Out of Africa too!); WWII arrives; everyone presumes one another dead; no one turns out to be dead; it all ends happily. And in case you are at any point confused as to the plot (as if you could be), Luhrmann provides stodgily written narration to help you along. This lasts two hours and forty-five minutes.

Not all of it is boring. There is a lovely sequence where the small boy (who falls in love with the song "Over the Rainbow") goes to the movies for the first time and gets to see The Wizard of Oz. Actually, Australia quotes The Wizard of Oz several times and whenever it does, the film tends to work just a little bit better. There is a rather funny sequence where Nicole Kidman sings "Over the Rainbow" and there is much talk of wishing, dreaming, rainbows, and going home. Australia, however, doesn't really want to be The Wizard of Oz; what it really wants to be is Gone with the Wind. It is neither.

The acting is rather bad all around; Hugh Jackman is passable, but the characters are all so stilted and cartoonish that it is hard to find any honesty anywhere in the film. The costumes are beautiful—easily the film's best attribute. The score is intelligent but it never really works emotionally. Almost nothing in the movie really works.

Two more things about the film, both of which have to do with Peter Jackson. While I was watching Australia, I kept thinking that Luhrmann had made a movie after Moulin Rouge! but I could not think of it for the life of me. The movie I was trying to think of was King Kong. As you know, this is not a Baz Luhrmann movie, but Australia reminded me of Jackson's King Kong a lot. Both filmmakers are clearly obsessed with CGI. But, see, the CGI in King Kong looked real to me. The CGI in Australia almost never looks real. There are long shots of landscapes and wide arial shots of the North Australia shore and the Northern Territories' night sky, but they always look computer-generated and they never look believable. It actually becomes quite distracting. It's as though the cartoony plot and cartoony acting bleeds into the landscape and that becomes cartoony, as well.
The other thing Australia has in common with Peter Jackson's brand of filmmaking is both directors' insistence on a Manichaean worldview. The good guys in Australia are so very good, and the villains are the most reprehensible, unforgiveable, horrible people you can imagine. Even when the director has the opportunity to introduce nuance he avoids it. He will not allow these characters to be complicated in any way. The bad guys are bad guys and the good guys are good guys who just need to learn a lesson or two.

There is more to say, of course. The film is racist in a lot of ways. It claims, for instance, to be a picture about inclusiveness and anti-prejudice, but Luhrmann's camera always turns its focus toward the white people in the story. Black people should be given equality in Australia, but not equality in the frame.

But there are worse things to say about Australia than its vaguely racist sensibilities.
Australia is boring.
And really long.
And you've seen it before.

25 November 2008

Clint Eastwood 2008 Film #1

I finally scrounged up enough time to go see Clint Eastwood's Changeling last week. I figured it will be out of theaters soon and I would miss it if I didn't go soon.

I liked this picture. It is not going to be for everyone and it isn't a great movie by any means, but it is a very respectable picture; well shot, nicely staged. In discussion, I keep calling Changeling a "quality" film. It is a good script (by J. Michael Straczynski) and it is very well acted by a company of talented folks (helmed by the luminous Angelina Jolie, but including Michael Kelly, John Malkovich, and Jeffrey Donovan). A young man named Eddie Alderson gives a great performance—one of the best in the film—as a young murderer who is roped into killing Angelina Jolie's little boy (maybe).

Changeling is not without its problems. The lead character lacks a strong narrative arc and the plot occasionally follows various subplots that feel out of place and ill-motivated. Still, the subplots converge well enough, and each has an emotional payoff. The movie is never boring and it's filled with a bevy of intriguing villains and seedy elements as well as a noble heroine.

As far as Oscar, I think the film is not really going to catch hold. I love Angelina Jolie, but I don't think the Academy is really on the bandwagon. She was fantastic in last year's A Mighty Heart, had tons of early buzz, and still didn't get a nomination. And, as the title of this post hints, Eastwood has another movie coming out this season (Gran Torino) that is also getting very good reviews. Changeling, therefore, may only end up getting some below-the-line buzz (costumes, cinematography, art direction, screenplay) and may not even get those.

Still, this is quality filmmaking, and I found the film emotionally satisfying, well directed and intelligent.

12 November 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme's new movie Rachel Getting Married (his return to narrative features after four years) is a movie about, well, a wedding. But like so many weddings, this wedding is not all about the bride.

The movie starts with the bride's dour sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) getting out of rehab and getting picked up by her father and stepmother (theatre veterans Bill Irwin and Anna Deavere Smith). Kym is irritable and selfish from the first moment she is onscreen. The wedding is being held at the family home and the house is, of course, filled with preparations for the wedding: musicians, people arranging flowers, decorators. At the center of this wedding bustle is the bride, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt, in a fabulous, award-worthy performance).

Kym descends on this wedding, which appears to be a stress-free occasion but for her presence. All are, of course, happy that Kym is able to come to the wedding, but her acid tongue and consistently selfish attitude create awkwardness throughout the weekend that the film documents.

Rachel Getting Married is a family drama written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet and the script is reminiscent of wedding/family dramas like The Celebration, After the Wedding and (more obviously, perhaps) last year's Margot at the Wedding. And the problem with Rachel Getting Married is that though it recalls all of these films it is not as good as any of them. Margot at the Wedding, in particular, is an extremely intelligent film with a fierce central performance. And, I guess what I'm saying is that Rachel Getting Married seems, more than anything else, like a Noah Baumbach tribute film that is not as good as a Noah Baumbach film.

Still, there are some lovely performances in the film. Rosemarie DeWitt (as I already mentioned) is tops as the "good" sister. Bill Irwin as the longsuffering father to these girls is really brilliant, particularly in a family confrontation in act two. Anna Deavere Smith is given very little to do, but it is nice to see her, at any rate. Oh yeah, and the girls' mother is played by Debra Winger (!) She is also very, very good, although I think her role might be a little too small for Academy consideration. Truth be told, I don't think this film has much chance of any recognition by the Academy except as a screenplay: the main character is just too abrasive. I spent the entire film wanting to lock her out of the house.

10 November 2008

Seen Around Talla-classy #3

This one is a little late, but:

Now, what is this person thinking? I actually can't figure it out. Does this driver like Sarah Palin? The sticker is obviously sexist and demeaning toward Mrs. Palin, but what I think is weird is that I think the sticker might be in support of the McCain/Palin ticket. So strange.
Of course, I put this question forward to one of my (heterosexual male) students and he said—and I quote—"That person definitely supports Palin; MILF is never a derogatory term." I disagree, certainly, but I take his point. Weird.

The other sign I wish to share with you is from my ride home from work:

I have nothing to add. I can sort of make out "milk," "beer," and "bread," and it also looks like they were at some point selling 32 oz. sodas (what gas station doesn't?) but what in the hell is the rest of it?

07 November 2008

Don't Ask If You Don't Want to Know

I have been playing a dangerous little game with my parents in regards to Proposition 8. See, I know my parents are homophobic people but I don't know that they're homophobic people. You know what I mean? I don't know because I don't ask about their homophobia and they don't tell me. And I've been attempting to avoid any and all knowledge about this homophobia because I want to like my parents.

Today, however, my little sister accidentally told me that my parents voted Yes on Proposition 8.

the news of the day is that my parents are bigots.

I talked to my dad on Monday afternoon, too. We had a nice conversation and we laughed and joked. He told me he would call me on Wednesday to check in about the election and I promised him that I wouldn't gloat too much about Obama being elected. And my dad said that he was actually looking forward to it in a lot of ways. He said he wasn't going to be too disappointed about Obama's win. I thought it was magnanimous of him and was rather looking forward to our chat on Wednesday.

We missed each other on Wednesday. He called me while I was in class and I called back while he and my mom were out walking. I can't call him back today after hearing this. I am too angry but mostly too hurt. I did not want to know this about my parents. But this is hate. This is bigotry and hate and—no matter what they say—this time they have directed their hate at me.

And anyone who knows me knows that I do not want to get married, that I have no intention of ever getting married. I told my last boyfriend that if I were to ever get married for insurance purposes or tax purposes I would want to keep it a secret: no wedding, no "Mr. & Mr.," no "my husband is at the grocery store." I am a good libertarian: I don't like marriage as an institution and I don't think the government should sanction it. But, as it happens, the government does sanction it. And at least 18,000 lesbian and gay people in California want to be married to their partners. They want this for many reasons and these people should be able to do what they want to do.

My parents evidently feel as though these people (me included) should not be allowed to do what my parents themselves are able to do. My parents believe that I am not as valuable as they are. That I do not deserve to be able to exercise the rights that they have exercised. They believe that they are somehow better than me.

This, to me, is unacceptable. A vote in favor of Proposition 8 is hateful and bigoted, and both of my parents cast that vote.

I have no idea what I am going to do about this and I wish this had not happened.
I could've lived with the don't-ask-don't-tell policy for at least a little while longer, but I don't know if I can live with this.

It is unacceptable. There is no excuse.

03 November 2008

Funk Over

I think my bad mood is officially over. I am feeling much better for some reason. Perhaps it is the death rattle of the Bush presidency that is putting a spring in my step.

My computer crashed on Tuesday, by the way, and I have not yet recovered all of the data from the main drive. So that's a bummer. But everyone assures me that the data are recoverable; it will just take time. I am (strangely) doing okay.

I still hate this semester of graduate school and cannot wait for it to end, but the end—as they say—is in sight and I am excited to visit California.

So: a few movies. I have continued my trend of frivolity. This means that I, of course, caught Kenny Ortega's High School Musical 3: Senior Year. Frankly, I liked it better than the first two. I thought there were some nice, sentimental moments. Little Efron is becoming a much better actor than he was when he started in the business, and the plot is not heinous. This one, too, feels more like a musical than the first two. There is a dancing-on-the-rooftop number that is true movie magic. The songs in HSM3 are, like the songs in films one and two, largely unmemorable, but I didn't mind at all. The film has enough life and excitement to be worth enjoying. I am positive the film would be better served with alcohol, but I liked it quite enough without a martini in my hand.

I liked Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, too. The film, by the way, has nothing to do with The Thin Man This is a sweet romantic comedy about teenagers who love music. It's very fun. The dialogue is clever, but not overly clever, and the lead couple is engaging. Ari Graynor, who plays the sidekick of the main girl, is a drunk hot mess for most of the film, and she gives a truly hilarious performance that is nuanced and realistic. Michael Cera is adorable as usual, but the entire film is filled with memorable, silly characters, including Cera's bandmates in the film, who are both gay and spend the evening trying to think up a better name for their band The Jerkoffs. Anyway, this is charming and totally worth seeing.